The Undertow

Kobo eBook available

read instantly on your Kobo or tablet.

buy the ebook now

The Undertow

by Jo Baker

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | December 11, 2012 | Trade Paperback

Not yet rated | write a review

The American debut of an enthralling new voice in fiction — a vivid, indelibly told novel that follows four generations of a family against the backdrop of a century of turmoil.

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.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 352 pages, 7.98 × 5.18 × 0.8 in

Published: December 11, 2012

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307946940

ISBN - 13: 9780307946942

Found in: Fiction and Literature

save 27%

  • In stock online

$13.68  ea

Online Price

$18.00 List Price

or, Used from $6.13

eGift this item

Give this item in the form of an eGift Card.

+ what is this?

This item is eligible for FREE SHIPPING on orders over $25.
See details

Easy, FREE returns. See details

Item can only be shipped in Canada

Downloads instantly to your kobo or other ereading device. See details

All available formats:

Check store inventory (prices may vary)

Reviews

– More About This Product –

The Undertow

by Jo Baker

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 352 pages, 7.98 × 5.18 × 0.8 in

Published: December 11, 2012

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307946940

ISBN - 13: 9780307946942

Read from the Book

The Electric Theatre, York Road, Battersea, London August 14, 1914 THE LIGHTS GO OUT. The cheap seats erupt in shrieks and roars, as though the dark has changed everyone into wild animals and birds. It’s hot. The stench is terrible. Amelia fumbles for William’s hand. A mechanical whir and clatter starts up behind her. She twists round to look over her shoulder. All she can see is a saturating flood of light, which makes her blink, and then the light begins to flip and flicker. "It’s starting,” William says.   Amelia turns back in her seat and cranes to look between the heads in front, through the twists of tobacco smoke.   A man snaps into existence. The audience cheers. He bows, blows kisses. He’s framed by rich, draped curtains, and wears an elegant morning suit. He is very handsome. He is soft shades of porcelain and charcoal, silky-grey.   "That’s Max,” William says. “Max Linder.”   Amelia’s hand squeezes William’s. “What’s the story?”   "He’s on stage,” William says. “Taking a curtain call.”   The miracle of it. A gentleman like that, bowing to them; to the audience crammed there, two kids to a seat, all of them jabbering away as if this was nothing. The place smelling of old clothes and boots and sweat and bad teeth and disease.   “What do you think?” William asks.   She just shakes her head, smiles.   The i
read more read less

From the Publisher

The American debut of an enthralling new voice in fiction — a vivid, indelibly told novel that follows four generations of a family against the backdrop of a century of turmoil.

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.

About the Author

JO BAKER was born in Lancashire and educated at Oxford University and Queen’s University 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, and The Telling. She lives in Lancaster.

Editorial Reviews

“Gripping. . . . Emotionally powerful. . . . 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.”  — The New York Times Book Review “Jo Baker is a novelist with a gift for intimate and atmospheric storytelling. . . . [She] skillfully delineates the currents of social change and the essential human drama that persists. . . . The result is an agile, keenly observed novel that evokes the minuscule rewards and disappointments of the everyday.” — The Financial Times “Engaging . . . . 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.” — The Washington Post “A poignant, emotionally intense read that illuminates the legacies of love and loss for ordinary people.”  — Marie Claire “Moving but never sentimental. . . .  The Undertow  has a quiet, cumulative power; you read it not quite realizing how it’s burrowing under your skin.” — The Seattle Times “Intricate, sensitive. . . . What is the legacy of four generations of loss? For Americans without a direct link to the current conflicts overseas or who get their war news from TV and Twitter, the question can seem like a distant concept. . . . However, t
read more read less

Bookclub Guide

US

1. Why has Jo Baker chosen The Undertow for her title? Where does a literal undertow appear in the novel? What is the metaphoric undertow that exerts a pull on all the main characters?

2. Why does Baker begin the novel with Amelia and William at a cheap movie theater watching a film about treachery, jealousy, and betrayal, but which ends happily: “All troubles are over, all discord is resolved: no one loves the wrong person or wants something they can never have, or has to face something they simply cannot face” (p. 5). How does this opening scene set up some of the themes that will recur throughout the book?

3. What is the appeal of following a single family through four generations? In what ways are William, Billy, Will, and Billie remarkably alike? What common threads run throughout the generations? In what ways are they quite different from one another? 

4. The desire to escape is a major theme of The Undertow. In what ways do William, Billy, Will, and Billie all attempt to escape? Why do they feel trapped? What different methods do they use to get free?

5. In what ways are history and family history deeply intertwined in The Undertow? How does the history that one generation lives through affect the next generation?

6. When William wanders into a cathedral on Malta in 1915, he sees Caravaggio’s painting The Beheading of St. John the Baptist and thinks: “This is not a holy picture. . . . This is not a holy place. There’s too much dirt and dark and blood: this is all too human . . . there’s no God, no guidance, no forgiveness here” (p. 21). Nearly ninety years later, Billie views the very same painting. Compare her response, on pp. 311–12, to her great-grandfather’s. How does the painting influence Billie’s own sense of artistic purpose?

7. Why would Billie want to paint “what people don’t look at . . . to paint it and put it in a frame and make it something that people really look at. Deliberately. That they linger over” (p 321)?

8. When Will worries that Billie’s painting of Matthew—which appears in a group of her paintings of wounded soldiers—is tempting fate, Billie says: “I think, whatever it is, by not looking at it, not saying it, not admitting it to yourself, that’s the temptation, that’s the danger. You’ve got to look fate right in the eye. You’ve got to stare it down” (p. 327). Is Billie right about this? In what ways does she embody a new openness that none of her ancestors could achieve?

9. What are the major secrets that run throughout the novel? What are their consequences?

10. How does Billy react to his son Will’s disability? Why does he feel his killing the boy in Normandy was the “down payment” (p. 175) for a second chance at having a healthy son?

11. In what ways does war pervade The Undertow? How does it affect each of the main characters? In what ways does the novel show the emotional costs of war across generations, for both men and women?

12. What role does Sully—William’s shipmate who survived the sinking of the Goliath—play in the novel? Is there a larger significance in his menacing reappearances?

13. When Amelia’s boss, Mr. Jack, mentions the rumor of a new front opening in France, he tells her: “But keep it to yourself, eh?. . .  Keep mum.” Amelia thinks: “Motherhood and silence: why the same word?” (p. 149). What is the connection between motherhood and silence, especially for women of Amelia’s generation?

14. In what ways does The Undertow offer a very personal history of the twentieth century? Discuss the emotional evolution that occurs from William in 1914, through Billy and Will, to Billie in 2005?

15. Why has Jo Baker chosen to end the novel with a scene of lyrical tenderness, as Billie thinks of the future and the present: “There will be illness, and there will be death, and through it all there will be love. But for now, the blackbird still sings outside the window. Now, there is just the kiss, and the taste of coffee, and the clear strong knowledge that this, however long or brief, is happiness” (p. 341)? Why would Billie locate happiness in such a simple, ordinary moment? In what ways does this passage echo Billy’s philosophy of not looking further than the next ten yards?

Item not added

This item is not available to order at this time.

See used copies from 00.00
  • My Gift List
  • My Wish List
  • Shopping Cart