In The Wake: a Novel

In the Wake - Per Petterson, Anne Born

In the Wake reads like a dream diary in which emotions, ideas, and relationships emerge and submerge, never fully formed, but living, in their way, distinct and ever-present, haunting those who keep them close. This is a novel in which Arvid Jansen comes to narrative consciousness with his face pressed against the window of a book store, as if waking from a coma. It is, in fact, his brother who we find in a coma, while learning the rest of Jansen's family, appearing through flashbacks or via the artifacts that prove their existence, has died horribly by fire-at-sea — an event that mirrors the author's own life.This is a tragic novel, but not a morbid one. The central issue seems to be not loss alone but the loneliness that travels with it, and Arvid surprises the reader in those relationships to which, like debris, he is able to pick up and create a connection. Those are the relationships that that stay in the reader’s mind at the novel's close - their awkwardness, unspoken intentions, and stunted growth create for the narrator not a surrogate but perhaps a new family that can carry loss toward a more landed identity in which hope can, if not exactly thrive, breathe, and flail, and mourn.