The Undertow Paperback – Dec 11 2012
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“Gripping. . . . Emotionally powerful. . . . Baker is skilled at evoking not only the distinctive social circumstances of the settings but the essential nature of each character. . . . You can’t walk away from her book.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Jo Baker is a novelist with a gift for intimate and atmospheric storytelling. . . . [She] skillfully delineates the currents of social change and the essential human drama that persists. . . . The result is an agile, keenly observed novel that evokes the minuscule rewards and disappointments of the everyday.”
—The Financial Times
“Engaging . . . . The Hastings family must fend off adversity of all kinds and from every side. Their challenges—so movingly detailed here—provide a profound sense of the whole tumultuous century.” —The Washington Post
“A poignant, emotionally intense read that illuminates the legacies of love and loss for ordinary people.”
“Moving but never sentimental. . . . The Undertow has a quiet, cumulative power; you read it not quite realizing how it’s burrowing under your skin.”
—The Seattle Times
“Intricate, sensitive. . . . What is the legacy of four generations of loss? For Americans without a direct link to the current conflicts overseas or who get their war news from TV and Twitter, the question can seem like a distant concept. . . . However, this tightly crafted English novel, tracing a family from World War I to Iraq, brings it to life.”
—Oprah.com (Book of the Week)
“Some writers let you know you’re in safe hands from the start, and Jo Baker is one of them. . . . This drama-rich saga unfolds as a series of intimate family portraits. . . . There are gripping set-pieces, from childbirth to battlefield, all related in cut-glass prose and embedded with telling period detail.”
“Emotionally charged. . . . Baker’s saga about four generations of the British Hastings family, beginning with a young William sailing off to WWI, explores the effects of war, poverty, dreams, and the difficulties of love.”
“Richly evocative . . . Its fast-flowing style, sparky dialogue and lean narrative hops through decades, taking in wars, deaths, births, hardships and dark family secrets. . . . Well crafted and highly readable, [The Undertow] places Baker at the top end of the list of emerging British literary talent.”
—Time Out London
“Deeply affecting. . . . A sweeping drama with real emotional depth.”
“An exceptional 20th-century saga. . . . A four-generational span of extraordinary history and ordinary lives, eloquent about the unshared interior worlds of individuals even when connected by the closest of bonds. . . . This searchingly observant work captures a huge terrain of personal aspiration against a shifting historical and social background. Impressive.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“The Undertow, so deeply and richly imagined, is one of those books that make you forget to turn off the bedside light. I found myself thinking, just one more page, and then, just one more chapter. If what you love is a larger-than-life story with epic dimensions that pulls you in and won’t let you go, this is your book.”
—Kim Barnes, author of In the Kingdom of Men
About the Author
JO BAKER was born in Lancashire and educated at Oxford University and Queen’s University Belfast. The Undertow is her first publication in the United States. She is the author of three previous novels published in the United Kingdom: Offcomer, The Mermaid’s Child, and The Telling. She lives in Lancaster.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
My problem with it was I didn't always understand what happened. One character comes up several times but for no real purpose. All in all a pleasant read
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Here are the central characters in order, keeping in mind that there are others who narrate:
William starts off the book as he joins the British navy during World War I. Unfortunately, he is the weakest character in the story because he does not have much time to develop. As someone who served in the American navy, I enjoyed the comparison with the young men I had known as they ventured beyond their homes and encountered the allure of different cultures. I think that let me continue past the early section of the book.
Billy is the son whom William never meets. We see Billy's entire life and he is the book's most richly realized character. Despite being raised in poverty by his widowed mother, he becomes a champion cyclist. His part as a cyclist in the World War II D-Day invasion brought to life a chapter of history I did not know. His experiences shape him into a stoic man who is good with his hands and values athleticism. This means he cannot form a strong bond with his son, Will, who has a congenital physical problem.
Will takes part in the story's most comic sequence, even while illustrating the barbarism of cutting-edge medicine on young children. The effect of social class differences on social interactions is apparent throughout the book, but is most notable as he attends university. He becomes a professor and a philanderer.
Billie is his daughter. One mystery this generational story does not address is the source of her artistic talent. She has to live with the result of her father's infidelity in the person of her likable younger brother. The book ends in the present day as she nears middle age and her artistic career is truly beginning.