#SheReviews The Wakes by Dianne Yarwood

May 29, 2023

Life, in all it’s abundant beauty, is capable of dealing us dazzling and dizzying highs and perturbingly caustic lows. Indeed, just when the vast landscape of one’s existence seems bereft of joy and hope, life-changing and redeeming light can illuminate one’s path through this world.

Such unerring truths are poignantly and earnestly exemplified in stellar Australian author, Dianne Yarwood’s, phenomenally superbly written debut novel, The Wakes.

Set in the bustling, and at times casually indifferent, metropolis of Sydney in 2018, The Wakes shows us that life and death may both exist in life, but life is to be lived to the fullest and abundantly.

The Wakes has, at it’s epicentre, two married couples who are undergoing a time of crisis, change and detritus flux.

Chris Lang, 46, a highly skilled, driven and meticulous doctor working in the Emergency Department of a busy Sydney hospital sees people who are acutely in despair every one of his working days. Sometimes confronted with death, Chris is one to ‘soldier on’ and bravely deal with and treat patients whose prospects may sometimes be bleak.

Chris and Sarah (his care-worn wife, also a doctor) have been on the grueling and unforgiving rollercoaster of IVF (some seven rounds), and still not been blessed with a baby. The IVF treatments have taken their toll on the once idealistic couple, and now it seems their marriage may be in lamentable trouble. 

The stark complexity of Chris and Sarah’s relationship is exacerbated by Chris’s innocuous obsession with a former partner, Beth, during his time living in London, in the distant past. We are told “His mind held a clear picture of him living in London and working at St Thomas’s Hospital, and loving it all. His soul told him they were without question the best years of his life”.

Sarah abruptly leaves Chris, his dreams of a bonny child and a supportive marriage obliterated in one fell swoop.

David and Clare are married (though how well?) and parents to Alex (fifteen) and Grace (twelve). David is in charge of the English department at a girls’ high school in Sydney, while Clare, trained as a pharmacist, “worked in the regulatory affairs division of a large pharmaceutical company”.

David is seemingly going through a protracted and (?) inevitable mid-life crisis, as he profoundly and forthrightly tells Clare one night that he is going through an emotionally terse time, and basically needs ‘time out’ from their marriage. Retreating to his brother’s granny flat, David is far removed from his marriage (or is he?).

When Clare has a shocking and reverberating mishap at a school reunion and is subsequently off work for an extended period, she meets her flighty, but caring, neighbour, Louisa. Louisa mows lawns for a living, on the North Shore, and takes tours of the Royal Botanical Gardens. When she has an opportunity to cater for a wake (the son of her mother’s best friend – Tim – has offered Louisa the work), Louisa is ebullient at the prospect of it (Louisa has previously worked as a chef). Louisa hopefully asks Clare to assist with catering for the wake as a ‘once off’, and perhaps a second wake.

Thus we readers are taken on a veritably transforming journey as Clare and Louisa cater for four wildly differing and life-altering wakes. The wakes are for the wildly differing, yet equally tragic, funerals of Greta Henry, Max Duncan, Keith Duncan and a person revealed shockingly in the novel.

How do the lives of the aforementioned characters intersect? Are they a help or a hindrance to each other? What and who connects the funerals and their wakes?

Can Chris and Sarah’s marriage be saved? Can David and Clare reconnect? Can Chris ever overcome his obsession with Beth, and the life they may have had together? Is there romance in the air for anyone?

Why is the food Clare and Louisa serve at the wakes so stunningly good (particularly the mouthwatering chicken sandwiches)? What are Clare and Louisa’s culinary and life secrets?

Who is Paul Swan? How does he fit into the picture? What terrible secret is he hiding?

Dianne has written a novel full of intelligence, wisdom and understanding. Her insights into the human psyche and condition, relationships and the many vagaries of this life are prolific and valuable to the reader.

Bravo Dianne! You have knocked it well and truly out of the ballpark with The Wakes, soon to be made into a television series. You will need the tissues handy while reading this book, such is the heartbreaking pathos imbued within it’s pages. Yet, there is also undeniable hope, even at-times uplifting euphoria.

I loved this book, and can’t wait to read what Dianne writes next.

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