The Waking by Matthew Smith

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The Waking by Matthew Smith

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A beautiful novel of grief, death and art from an exciting new writer and an equally exciting new publishing house.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 200 Date: September 2017
Publisher: Wundor Editions
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0995654150

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Isabel Sykes, 23, recounts the recent attempt she made to come to terms with the loss of her mother, the acclaimed but psychologically disturbed novelist Marianne Sykes. Marianne died in an unexplained house fire when Isabel was ten. Inspired by the appearance of Imogen Taylor, an enchanting young woman who wants to write a PhD on her mother's work, Isabel plunges into the depths of her past and an intense new friendship. After discovering that Imogen is not who she seems to be, Isabel must face the darkest moments from her childhood in order to protect her family from more tragedy. She receives unexpected help from beyond the grave: in the strange, glittering fragments of her mother's last, unfinished work, 'Midnightsong'.

Matthew Smith is a novelist, poet and photographer. He read English Literature at Christ Church College Oxford, and is an editor and publisher at Wundor Editions – who have published this book. Wundor editions are a new publishing house, offering a range of fiction and poetry, as well as city guides. The first thing that grabbed my attention with The Waking is the sheer quality of the volume – a beautifully designed cover draws the reader in, and the book is a tactile, enjoyable thing to pick up even before one opens the pages. I hadn't heard about Wundor Editions before, but on the sheer design strength I'll be keeping a close eye on them going forwards.

Does the content live up to the high expectation set by the packaging though? Well, yes. Goes far beyond them in fact. Smith is a poet, and that's evident in how not a single word is wasted - his prose is direct, intimate, and immediate. The story is focused on the grieving Isabel, but through her viewpoint Smith is free to explore grief, and the way people deal with that, and it's something he does exceptionally well - knowing that everybody deals with grief differently, he allows room for each reader to approach the characters here from whichever angle they choose, allowing everybody to perhaps put elements of their own experiences on those of the chracters. Add to that several unfolding mysteries alongside the backstory exploring a psychologcally disturbed artist and the relationship she has with her family - and you have a story that, rather rarely, is as compelling as it is well written.

There's certainly a tight focus on Isabel as the lead character, but Marianne, her novelist mother, is an enigmatic presence throughout - and one whom Smith brings to such vivid life that at times I forgot I was reading fiction and thought I was reading a memoir about the death of this mercurial writer. Ending the book with fragments of Marianne's unfinished novel only adds to that effect - it's vivid, moving, and a wholly appropriate way to end as good a novel as this. I'm hugely excited to see what both Smith and Wundor Editions do next - many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading I recommend Notes From An Exhibition by Patrick Gale -another fantastic book that explores the effects of grief on a family and the often painful relationship that an artist can have with those who love them. We can also recommend The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd.

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Buy The Waking by Matthew Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Waking by Matthew Smith at


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