The American debut by the bestselling author of Longbourn—a vivid, indelibly told novel that follows four generations of a family against the backdrop of a century of turmoil. • “Gripping.... Emotionally powerful…. You can’t walk away from her book.” —The New York Times Book Review
The Undertow traces the lives of the Hastings family, from the eve of the First World War to the present day: William, a young factory worker preparing to join the navy; his son Billy, who cycles into the D-Day landings; his grandson Will, an Oxford professor in the 1960s; and his great-granddaughter, Billie, an artist in contemporary London. Here Jo Baker reveals the Hastings’ legacy of choices made, chances lost, and truths long buried in what is an enthralling story of inheritance, fate, passion, and what it means to truly break free of the past.
Baker's saga about four generations of the British Hastings family, beginning with a young William sailing off to WWI, explores the effects of war, poverty, dreams, and the difficulties of love. The story's tone is set in the seedy Maltese bar where William breaks his wedding vows, dying shortly thereafter in a torpedo attack. Years later, William's navy buddy Sully shows up to deliver William's final postcard to his wife and ingratiate himself to her, though his schemes are frustrated by her son, Billy, who eventually marries and fights in WWII. Though he survives, Billy struggles to cope with his son Will's congenital disability, and the resulting emotional distance leaves both men embittered. Will overcomes his handicap to become a college professor, but is restless in his relationships. The closeness he wishes for with his artistic daughter, Billie, she instead shares with her grandfather. Will and his daughter eventually find common ground through her art after his son from a second wife enlists in the war in Afghanistan. At times the story's scope threatens to exceed the author's grasp, but Baker deftly reins it in for the emotionally charged final third.