In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings

Orenda Books has released some spectacular books in recent months, a number of which have made Book of the Month on this site. What makes them so wonderful is that they evoke an emotional reaction in the reader so very profound that the stories stay with you for a long time after you have read them. I had heard such good things about In Her Wake and I have yet to read an Orenda Books publication that I have not enjoyed, so I had very high hopes when I picked this book up to read.

In Her Wake is Bella’s story of how the death of her mother sparks a series of discoveries so life-changing and challenging, that Bella is left wondering who she really is. Her life is turned upside-down and she begins to question her whole existence, past, present and future, whilst trying to grieve for the woman who was the centre of her universe. I’m going to leave the description there, lest I give too much away, but needless to say, nothing is what it seems in Bella’s life.

The novel starts understandably sombre, as Bella returns to her family home for her mother’s funeral. Her Dad is distracted, and apparently desperate to talk to Bella about something but he seems unable to find the words. Bella’s overbearing husband is keen to direct Bella in absolutely everything, despite Bella’s annoyance and subsequent resignation to her husbands expectations. What appears to be a book about a woman’s struggle to deal with her mother’s death takes a shocking turn, developing into a rollercoaster of discoveries that shock, devastate and empower Bella in equal measure.

Jennings has written a beautifully stunning jigsaw of a book. In Her Wake is an emotional, moving narrative that keeps the reader captivated throughout. I absolutely devoured this book in two sittings (would have absolutely been in one sitting if it wasn’t for that unfortunate necessity of having to go to work the next day!) As Bella starts to uncover her past, every discovery hits the reader like a wrecking ball, as Bella’s incredible situation generates such a wave of sympathy with her and anger at those who have put her in such a terrible position of having to question everything she knows to be true.

Bella is a likeable character,  and the reader is invested emotionally from the first chapter. Jennings continues to develop her throughout her journey of discovery so that every blow is felt within the reader, every challenge is met with the same intrepidation as it would if it was happening to a close friend and every little bit of confidence and independence that Bella gains is a happy victory for the reader. Bella’s life has been shaped by the actions of others and she is left wondering, with the reader, what she would have done differently. For me, the crux of every novel is how the characters are developed to have the maximum desired impact on the reader, and Jennings evidently has a brilliant skill for doing this. Even the minor characters in this book are beautifully depicted to add extra facets to Bella’s story.

There are so many surprises in the plot of In Her Wake that the reader is absolutely gripped as soon as it is clear that everything is not as it seems. Jennings builds the suspense frequently as we discover the truth alongside Bella and venture into the unknown. As Bella’s understanding of the full facts is presented, the reader’s preconceptions of earlier discoveries are challenged, as justifications of such appalling actions are given more context to how Bella is in the position she finds herself in.

The apparently idyllic settings in this book further enhance the reading experience, as it seems to lend itself as an extra facet of intrigue and, at times, foreboding. Beautiful locations full of secrets seems to add another layer of deception as the secrets seem to ooze out of the various places from Bella’s childhood. The beautiful seaside location of St.Ives seems to give Bella a sense of freedom to discover her true self.

In her Wake is one of those books that you wish you could unread, just so you could read it again in blissful ignorance, to recapture the emotions felt with each discovery. (Men in Black memory zapper, anyone?) Ultimately, this book is a tale of the far-reaching effects of people’s responses under pressure, how horrendous acts are carried out for the love of others, for what they felt was best at that snapshot moment in time, and how those acts eat away at the perpetrators, no matter how honourable their intentions were. The different ways that people cope with grief is predominant throughout, and is demonstrated via Jennings’ characters wonderfully. I think that being a mother gave this story an extra level of emotional bite, but I think that Jennings would evoke an emotional response in the most stoic of readers with this narrative. I could not put this book down until I knew Bella’s story and I will be absolutely recommending this book to anyone who likes a psychological page turner. Orenda Books has indeed done it again and sourced an absolutely fascinating and engaging narrative that I suspect will do very, very well.