Wake, by Elizabeth Knox
I lower the book, pleased at my foresightedness in taking up these last pages in the mid-morning sun on my deck, for I have been reading Elizabeth’s Knox’s Wake (VUP). I’m one of the first to read it, before the inevitable fanfare that a writer of Knox’s calibre will excite. So, when they ask me what I think of Wake—it is Elizabeth Knox, after all—what shall I tell them? I turn the book in my hands and examine Horrocks’ cover design: does the sharpness and candour of the artwork capture the tale set down on its pages because, unlike Knox’s other definable novels, this one wafts and wisps and wends, and is difficult to seize. It’s not a thriller, although there are moments to rival The Purge, The Prisoner, or any other of this year’s big screen thrillers, and it isn’t horror, although for a while it seems as if the undead ravage the streets of its rural township setting. It’s certainly suspenseful—there’s a strong sense of unease and waiting—but it isn’t a suspense novel.
Nor is it romance, yet more than one love story is threaded into its warp. It might be fantasy, except Kahukura and its residents are startlingly real. Perhaps science fiction dystopia? Legend? I haven’t decided. One thing I recognise though, are the people: all remarkably familiar and all flawed in ways which may, or may not, be their undoing. They’re ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances: trapped in a mysterious disaster, where for the survivors, darkness and uncertainty are defining forces. Why did these few survive? How will they go on? Do they even want to? And, more importantly, will they be allowed to? In Wake, Knox’s style resembles that of Albert Camus, her story told in blunt, unembellished commentary, and straight from the minds of her characters, at least in so far as they let her. Somehow though, Wake isn’t hurried in spite of its hysteria, as after the initial thirst is quenched, the story is inexorable, marching slowly, doggedly to its satiating conclusion. Likewise, I advise readers to gather up this book and read slowly, to savour the feast, and to lick the plates clean.