Much has been made of the language in Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, and rightly so. The style blends Old English with the modern, and in doing so creates a daunting visage of the post-apocalyptic life of the Anglo-Saxon farmer Buccmaster. Now this not the nuclear winter we all await nor is it the global environmental calamity standing in our path, but is the end of a way of life and thus the emergence of new way. So in a way Kingsnorth is right: this text would not stand in modern English and would be illegible to most in the Old. To understand Buccmaster, we must think like him, to think like him we need his language, his thoughts, and his culture.
Distracting at first, after a few pages the text flows, and we find our way into Buccmaster’s skull through the word play. The language imbeds, forces one to understand and comprehend just what Buccmaster should be and is. Coupled with Kingsnorth’s extensive research, the novel claws at you, dragging you down and into the era. Buccmaster is at the end of his rope. An English man in a time of French invasion, a pagan man in a time of Catholic insurrection, a father that finds himself without children, a son who once banished from his own home, and ultimately, a man who seeks to reclaim all of that in more, only to find that the world is not willing, that the old gods are just that: old and so is his now passing life. Thus the reader travels with him, looking through his eyes, feeling his pain and confusion. It is a long, slow trek, a wake that will not end at times, but one the reader will gladly endure. He builds a band of warriors only to watch it crumble, he built a family only to have it endure the same fate when he refused to pay tribute to his new king. All in all he suffers, but that is the outcome of war, something that Buccmaster, even in the end is too blind to see. His world is burning, but he is unable to make the world around him burn.
- “so it is when a world ends who is thu i can not cnaw but i will tell you thu this thing be waery of the storm be most waery when there is no storm in sight” (2).
- “angland was not in synn angland was in fear now the bastard he grows fatt on it” (24).
- “my grandfather woulde sae men does not lysten to the wise for what the wise has to sae is not what they wants to hiere for what thewy wants to hiere is that their lifs is right as they is and that they is good folc and does not need to do naht” (71).