The American debut of an enthralling new voice: a vivid, indelibly told work of fiction that follows four generations of a family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century—a novel about inheritance, about fate and passion, and about what it means to truly break free of the past.
This is the story of the Hastings family—their secrets, their loves and losses, dreams and heartbreaks—captured in a seamless series of individual moments that span the years between the First World War and the present. The novel opens in 1914 as William, a young factory worker, spends one last evening at home before his departure for the navy . . . His son, Billy, grows into a champion cyclist and will ride into the D-Day landings on a military bicycle . . . His son in turn, Will, struggles with a debilitating handicap to become an Oxford professor in the 1960s . . . And finally, young Billie Hastings makes a life for herself as an artist in contemporary London. Just as the names echo down through the family, so too does the legacy of choices made, chances lost, and truths long buried.
About Jo Baker
Jo Baker was born in Lancashire and educated at Oxford and Belfast. The Undertow is her first publication in the United States. She is the author of three previous novels published in the United Kingdom: Offcomer, The Mermaid’s Child, andThe Telling. She lives in Lancaster.
Long, intricate, but never dull, English novelist Baker’s U.S. debut is a four-generational span of extraordinary history and ordinary lives, eloquent about the unshared interior worlds of individuals even when connected by the closest of bonds. Starting in London in 1914, it introduces young sweethearts William and Amelia Hastings, married just as World War I begins. Amelia, pregnant with Billy, will always stay faithful to William’s memory, tending the album of postcards he sent her, and when shipmate George Sully—a malevolent, recurrent, family-curse character—threatens, Amelia and Billy see him off together. Billy has a talent for cycling, but his prospects, as his own son’s will be, are clouded by issues of money and class, and then World War II intervenes. Billy survives to marry Ruby, a stylish Jew who also encounters George Sully but never tells her husband. The couple’s first child is Will, partly disabled by Perthes disease, whom Billy struggles to love. Clever Will achieves academic success at Oxford, but marries unhappily. It’s with his artistic daughter Billie that the book reaches its understated yet moving conclusion. – Kirkus Reviews
‘The Undertow,’ by Jo Baker, offers multigenerational story of a family shaped by wars
The Washington Post Book Review – June 1, 2012 (Excerpt)
“The Undertow” is the fourth novel published by English writer Jo Baker but her first in the United States. In this traditional, generational story, wars form the structural clothesline that holds up the laundry of a working-class family.
We first see the Hastingses when young William is about to be shipped off to Gallipoli in 1915. Already, he has the queasy feeling that he’s been cheated out of his life. Amelia, so delicious and sensuous before they got married, has turned into a prig who shows only distaste for her husband’s amorous advances. Maybe it’s because she’s already pregnant, living in a poky working-class home with William’s dad. Soon enough William is stuck out in Malta waiting for the English part of an invasion to begin. It occurs to him, inevitably, that his life is without meaning; he has little chance of actually living it out. He’s no more than a pawn in Winston Churchill’s overarching game.
Back home, his wife and their young son, Billy, live one step from starvation — although Amelia does everything in her power to keep things nice and dotes on Billy, who finds his life’s vocation early. He delivers groceries on a bike after school and discovers that he has an astonishing gift for speed. As he grows into his teens, he wins a few important bike races and can barely wait for the Olympic trials in Germany, but we find that Billy, too, is nothing but a pawn of the government. A diet of awful British working-class food has left him unable to compete with the big boys. He is, however, able-bodied enough to be sent behind German lines in World War II. [Read the full article...]
Winds of Fate - ‘The Undertow,’ by Jo Baker
The New York Times Book Review – June 8, 2012 (Excerpt)
When it was published in Britain last year, Jo Baker’s fourth novel was called “The Picture Book.” The title made some sense — it referred to both a cherished postcard album and, presumably, the snapshot structure of the narrative — but Baker’s American publishers were wise to change it. “The Picture Book” suggests something sweet and nostalgic. In its best moments, this novel, Baker’s first to be published in the United States, is gripping and ruthless.
“The Undertow” chronicles four generations of a British family, spanning 1914 to the present day. The plot makes some demands on the reader’s patience. William Hastings, a factory worker who joins the navy at the start of World War I, is torn between his commitment to his pregnant wife, Amelia, and the exotic world (and women) his ship passes as it steams toward Gallipoli. Amelia has desires that are more conservative and circumscribed, though no more easily gained. She wants her husband home, more money for food, a house with thicker walls. She wants to provide for her son, Billy, a talented cyclist, who is protective and too proud. She disapproves of his wife, Ruby, who is gorgeous, restless and Jewish. Billy and Ruby have a son, Will, who has Perthes disease. As a child, he knows his father looks at the calipers caging his limp leg and sees him as “a broken toy” that can’t be fixed. The problem with Will’s psyche becomes worse than that with his leg, and he self-medicates in time-old ways. So he passes on some of the pain to his daughter, Billie. Once, when she is a small child, he looks at her blithely standing in her bath and pities her, burdened with so much family history. “Little Billie Hastings, with her belly like a boiled egg and her narrow little shoulders. Too much for her to carry.” [Read the full article...]
THE LONDONDERRY AIR
Testament of an Ulster Gunman
A Novel by Garrad Gawler
It all changed for Charles Cunningham, a Physics teacher at the local College of Technology in the County Derry town of Maddenstown, on a June afternoon in 1973 when a bomb exploded in his neighborhood. He answers an advertisement by the UDR, the Ulster Defence Regiment, but, in the time to come, he will experience the consequences of his decisions, and how his involvement complicates matters with family and friends, Protestants and Catholics alike, to an unexpected degree.
With “The Londonderry Air – Testament of an Ulster Gunman” Garrad Gawler describes in minute detail and with an astonishing level of authenticity not only the inner workings of the Ulster Defence Regiment, but also the activities of underground paramilitary groups of regular citizens who planned and carried out the assassination of suspected Republican terrorists in their neighborhood.
The Londonderry Air is available at Amazon.Com, Amazon Kindle (US), Amazon.co.uk, Amazon Kindle (UK), Barnes & Noble, smashwords.com, and any other good bookstore.
For more information on Garrad Gawler and to read an excerpt of “The Londonderry Air,” please see the author’s section on this website.