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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.
“Moving but never sentimental. . . . The Undertow has a quiet, cumulative power; you read it not quite realizing how it’s burrowing under your skin, until its beautiful not-quite-an-ending. . . . [It contains] birth, death, love, misery, joy–life itself, filtered through the point of view of a number of characters, and filled in with the kind of detail that lets us see their clothing, smell their rooms, hear their voices. . . . It demonstrates a real mastery of language. . . . ‘The whole world in a little room,’ says Amelia to William in the book’s early pages, speaking of the miraculous way that cinema can capture a moment and show it anywhere. It’s a description that applies nicely to the experience of reading this novel, as well.” —Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times
“Gripping. . . . This portrait of four generations of a reticent British family is emotionally powerful. . . . The main characters are fully realized, with each personality becoming a force field and the language warping around them. Baker is skilled at evoking not only the distinctive social circumstances of the settings but the essential nature of each character. . . . You can’t walk away from her book.” —Louisa Thomas, The New York Times Book Review
"The Undertow, so deeply and richly imagined, is one of those books that make you forget to turn off the bedside light. I found myself thinking, just one more page, and then, just one more chapter. If what you love is a larger-than-life story with epic dimensions that pulls you in and won’t let you go, this is your book.” —Kim Barnes, author of In the Kingdom of Men
“Richly evocative . . . Places Baker at the top end of the list of emerging British literary talent.” —Time Out London
“Some writers let you know you’re in safe hands from the start, and Jo Baker is one of them. Stretching from the First World War to the present day, this drama-rich saga unfolds as a series of intimate family portraits . . . There are gripping set-pieces, from childbirth to battlefield, all related in cut-glass prose and embedded with telling period detail.” —The Independent (UK)
“Jo Baker is a novelist with a gift for intimate and atmospheric storytelling. . . . She skilfully delineates the currents of social change and the essential human drama that persists: the intertwining of love and grief, the moments of ecstasy that transfigure banality, and the painful throb of personal loyalty. She writes with conviction and an eye for pregnant detail. The result is an agile, keenly observed novel that evokes the minuscule rewards and disappointments of the everyday.” —Financial Times
“Deeply affecting . . . This is a sweeping drama with real emotional depth . . . The novel has cumulative force, the final chapters impressing most. Baker infuses her fluid, descriptive prose with a brilliantly generous squirt of smells [and sensations].” —Daily Mail (UK)
“A poignant, emotionally intense read that illuminates the legacies of love and loss for ordinary people.” —Marie Claire
“An emotionally involving story [whose] scenes ring true . . . Baker tackles Boy’s Own subjects—war, cycle racing, great escapes—with impressive confidence. Yet the book’s most moving moment is not amid the tragedy of war but in a quiet little scene between a teenage boy and his half-sister.” —The Observer (UK)
“One warning for the reader about to open The Undertow: don’t plan to read this remarkable, tender novel in short snatches of time, because it won’t work. Jo Baker’s story following the Hastings family through four generations will pull you up and hold you to the last page. . . . What makes the story stand out is the author’s gift for drawing every character vivid and full. She paints them with finely tuned detail. She understands their strengths and weaknesses, and, with great sensitivity, their contradictions. . . . So settle down in a chair and dive in. Follow these people through chapters that crackle with the bloody horrors of war and others that end as lightly as a kiss. You will be absorbed by them all–and their stories are ones you will not soon forget.” —Kate Alcott, author of The Dressmaker
“No melodrama here . . . just everyday disappointments and joys. . . . Baker does a fine job of making the ordinary extraordinary.” —Mary Ellen Quinn, Booklist
“Lavishly told.” —Claire Allfree, Metro (UK)
“Baker’s novel has a pleasing style. She doesn’t shrink, though, from describing the nastier elements of war.” —Lesley McDowell, Sunday Herald (Scotland)
“An engaging novel. The Hastings family must fend off adversity of all kinds and from every side. Their challenges—so movingly detailed here—provide a profound sense of the whole tumultuous century.” —Carolyn See, Washington Post