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The Undertow [Paperback]

Jo Baker

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Book Description

Dec 11 2012

The American debut of an enthralling new voice in fiction — a vivid, indelibly told novel that follows four generations of a family against the backdrop of a century of turmoil.

The Undertow traces the lives of the Hastings family, from the eve of the First World War to the present day:  William, a young factory worker preparing to join the navy; his son Billy, who cycles into the D-Day landings; his grandson Will, an Oxford professor in the 1960s; and his great-granddaughter, Billie, an artist in contemporary London. Here Jo Baker reveals the Hastings’ legacy of choices made, chances lost, and truths long buried in what is an enthralling story of inheritance, fate, passion, and what it means to truly break free of the past.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (Dec 11 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307946940
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307946942
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 259 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #110,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“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.” 
Marie Claire

“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.”
— (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.”
The Independent 

“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.”
Publishers Weekly

“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.”
Daily Mail 

“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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Scenes from a family saga Feb. 6 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on
I enjoyed this book, perhaps because I'm British but live in the US, and perhaps because I'm interested in the wars that shaped the last century. The structure is interesting, though the short extracts from the lives of four generations of a British family where all the protagonists are called a version of William made me feel that perhaps I wanted a four book saga. The writer pulls no punches in writing about war and its effect on Britain's ordinary families, and for that I give her credit. For some reason I found the book overall a bit unsatisfying.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Does not live up to its publicity June 3 2012
By M. Coleman - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
After reading two favorable reviews, I eagerly ordered the Kindle version of The Undertow. I found the characters unappealing and uninteresting and their circumstances sordid. It was not until the final generation that I found a sympathetic individual. I was greatly disappointed as I had expected a truly compelling family saga.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My new favorite author Nov. 4 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
After reading this author's The Telling followed immediately by Longbourn, both immensely satisfying and enjoyable reads, I looked to see what else Jo Baker has to offer. I am not a fan of multi generation sagas typically avoiding them like the plague. That and the very mixed reviews had me hesitating over giving The Undertow a try. In the end it is Ms. Baker's excellent writing skills and compelling story telling that convinced me to give it a try and I am so glad that I did. In each of their stories - William's, Billy's, Will's and Billie's - we are presented with sufficient facts to give us a sense of their characters and their lives without it becoming so tedious as to cause a glazing over of the eyes and a book set aside unfinished. Ms. Baker's immense talent shows in the way she weaved the stories together returning briefly to those who went before to fill in some of the blanks and give us a better understanding of the Hastings family as a whole. In one short week having read all three books, Jo Baker has zipped to the top of my favorite authors list. I anxiously await her next book.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Depressing story Dec 23 2013
By Natalie McMurdy - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I know, it was pretty true to life, but I was not entertained. I had to push myself to finish the book. I could have put it down and not finished it, but I hate to do that. I was hoping there was a happy ending. I guess you could say that Billie was happy by the end of the book. Would not recommend this story to my friends.
4.0 out of 5 stars A British Family Century Aug. 1 2014
By lizzie - Published on
I grabbed this book off my library’s “Blind Book Date” shelf, and its cover promised “four generations = one tumultuous center. Secrets. Loves and losses. Dreams. Heartbreaks.”

Set in Great Britain through most of the 20th century, it provided all that was promised, and even a fifth generation, though as the father of the “first” generation, we didn’t see much of him.

As I write this, I am hard-pressed to recall many specifics of the characters. Let’s see, the first and second generations both went to war. One did not come home. The third generation was born with a disability. The fourth generation was female, but all had names derivative of William. These generations were born, lived, had relationships and children (the last generation is pending), and died (ditto on that). The book was a good read, but read more like a series of overlapping novellas with interrelated characters. It was interesting to see how the challenges of one generation affected the next.

I am glad I read this book, but I cannot give it the top rating. But if you like fiction of this period (1910s through 2000s), and set in Great Britain, you should enjoy this book.

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