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The Undertow

3.39 of 5 stars 3.39  ·  rating details  ·  405 ratings  ·  103 reviews
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 he
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 15th 2012 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2011)
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It feels terribly clichéd to talk about words painting pictures but, although I have tried to find other words, I can really think of no better way to express my feelings about this book.

The author allows her reader to observe lives, visiting and watching. And it works beautifully, because she understands the maxim show don’t tell.

She writes in the first person present tense, something I don’t usually like. But after the first page I didn’t think about it. I was caught up.

The story opens in The
"Don't look beyond the next ten yards," is the advice Mr. Rudd gives Billy Hasting, a cyclist and the second generation Hastings protagonist in this multi-generational novel. The advice echoes forward across the years to the final Hastings, Billie, who has learned from her family history to take her joy when and where she can find it. In juxtaposition to this perhaps hopeful advice is the looming shadow of the evil Mr. Sully and his bitten-off earlobe, saved by Billy's mother and accidentally pa ...more
Chris Witkowski
Was looking for a book to borrow from the library for my new Kindle and happened upon this, knowing absolutely nothing about it, not really expecting too much. I was pleasantly surprised. This is a haunting novel that spans four generations of of a British family, starting with William Hastings as he marches off to World War I, leaving his pregnant new bride who spends her days longing for the postcards he sends from the "exotic" places he was posted to. The novel is broken into rather short sec ...more
Eh. Interesting premise, but under 350 pages to tell your story of four generations is not enough. No character is fleshed out, what is put on paper is highly unlikeable. These are really not people I want to read about. Except Billie, who's ok. But she's too little, too late. We don't spend much time with her either. Baker keeps lighting down on our protagonists during not particularly interesting times. Major events in their lives have either happened in the past or is yet to happen. This is a ...more
This book was beautifully written with rich, deep characters and a compelling storyline. The story spans four generations with a feel of short stories about each yet neatly intertwined so that the book has a nice overall flow. This story was hard to put down, which is surprising for me since I am usually impatient with short stories as they often leave me wanting more. Instead, this book gave enough detail to make me love and enjoy the characters, yet kept moving at a rapid pace.

Reader received
I thought this was an interesting book about how war impacted several generations of one family. While I enjoyed reading it, it had some flaws. The biggest being, until the final Billie, there were no likeable characters. Relationships consisted of the party who had an extramarital affair for often incomprehensible reasons and the pathetic and/or self-righteous injured party. The book felt like a series of short stories, which were compelling to read but made me feel like I never fully got to kn ...more
If you like stories that deeply explore a concentrated slice of life, The Undertow will provide you with a very satisfying read. Personally, I like that type of writing and believe it is accomplished very effectively by British writers. Jo Baker reminds me of writers like Helen Dunsmore, Mona Simpson, Margo Livesey - writers who give us a worldview where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. By exploring several generations of the same family, focusing on how people react to circumstances ...more
Sarah Beth
I won this novel as a giveaway on Goodreads.

This is a generational novel that follows four generations of the Hastings family from William in WWI, his son Billy, a champion cyclist who ends up in WWII, his son Will who becomes an Oxford professor, and his daughter Billie, who is an artist in present day. This book was originally published in the UK with the title The Picture Book. The former title refers both to a book of postcards the original William sent back from WWI, but also describes the
Jo Baker's American debut of a novel is an enthralling, moving story of one family crossing four generations of time. The chapters move from one couple to the next, including their children and the process of growing up along the way. Each generation encounters their own unique hardships, including different wars, and Baker illustrates these challenges eloquently, allowing the reader to easily connect with the characters.

William is the first man discussed, and goes into the Navy in 1914. His so
Cian O hAnnrachainn
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way, and Jo Baker does a fine job of presenting that desperation.

The novel follows four generations of a British family, from the onset of WW I through modern times. Each generation struggles with poverty in a manner befitting the setting, and each generation is possessed of a certain hope that things will get better so they hang on.

The author uses present tense to lend a sense of immediacy, drawing in the reader. The characters are so thoroughly Br
I hate to admit this, but I almost gave up on this book during the first 35 pages or so. It was something I just picked up at the library (I loved the beautiful cover) on a whim, so I didn't feel particularly compelled to finish it.

Then, I decided to give it one more chapter. And when I looked up, one hour and 150 pages later, I was in love.

The book really is just a series of moments covering the course of a century in the Hastings family, but what beautiful and heartbreaking moments they are.
Starting just before WW1 this is the story of 4 generations, each one with their own talents. The final focus on the gt grand daughter neatly pulls together the story. In the final two pages the story links to the future and events which the reader will be familiar with. Although I didn't like all the main characters by an means it was an enjoyable read. There were some open ends which kept the tension going. There was no sense of the author giving her opinion - the characters talked for themsel ...more
This is the US title of The Picture Book, one of my favourite novels of the last year. Lyrical and lucid, the book's series of snapshots from the life of one family over most of a century has lingered in my mind over the months since I read it in a way that many a wordier tome would envy. Baker's characters are tenderly, but not uncritically examined, their foibles as well as their heroism, and she has a gift for the unexpected turn of descriptive phrase which catalyzes a broader understanding. ...more
Kathryn White
Apparently this author is well-known and highly regarded in England. Her books have only recently come across the pond to find fame and fortune with American audiences. This was my first of her novels. I selected it for the title which is not always a good reason to choose a book, but I was also intrigued by the idea of a family saga that did not span 500 pp. At first I was totally dismayed with both the character development and disjointed narrative, but being a person who likes to finish what ...more
Victoria Hess
I grabbed this book off my library’s “Blind Book Date” shelf, and its cover promised “four generations = one tumultuous center. Secrets. Loves and losses. Dreams. Heartbreaks.”

Set in Great Britain through most of the 20th century, it provided all that was promised, and even a fifth generation, though as the father of the “first” generation, we didn’t see much of him.

As I write this, I am hard-pressed to recall many specifics of the characters. Let’s see, the first and second generations both w
The Undertow chronicles the Hastings family and their secrets, dreams and heartbreaks. The book spans between 1914-2004 and is comprised of multiple storylines that follow four generations of the family. While not my favorite book I've read this year it kept my interest (at least most of the time). I especially liked the author's unflinching look of the two world wars. The Undertow is really a history of ordinary lives and the choices people make.
On audiobook. The only other book by Jo Baker I've read is Longbourn, and both books made me think about privilege-- and about NOT having privilege.

This looks at four generations in a family, starting in 1914 and ending in the early 2010s, I think. It was interesting reading it so soon after the second in Jane Smiley's Hundred Years trilogy, because this book covers in one rather long book about the same period of time that series will cover in three. Smiley will do it with one chapter for every
Kirsty Darbyshire
I picked this up because I liked Fleur's review of it. If you're in the mood for a family tale that takes you from 1914 to, I forget exactly, 2000 and a bit, but isn't exactly a family saga then this is the thing to read. Short portraits of the lives of four generations that make a great story when they are put together. Quite delightful.
Ann Holland
One of the most boring books I've ever struggled through. There was little character development and the only tension was provided by the character of Sully, who threatened, but never seriously, three generations of the Hastings family. When he showed up yet again in Oxford, I began to wonder just how long Sully was going to live! Don't waste your time or your money,
I enjoyed the story/stories of the four generations. Slow getting into the book but as each generation came along I became caught up in their 'ups and downs' by the time I got to Billie I definitely had to finish it to find out how she found her happiness. Sometimes very sad and sometimes very happy but most of the story was 'life'.
A very beautiful story all around. Not so much the characters but their lives are what is most interesting to me. This author has great storytelling skills that will make you keep the book in your hand till your done reading! Thanks for a speedy delivery.
Goodreads winner
Skai Leja
I picked this book because I enjoyed Jo Baker's Longbourn so much, but didn't get the same pleasure from The Undertow. Although more female characters emerged as the novel progressed, by and large it was a novel about men who lead blighted or tragically shortened lives, and the attendant unhappiness they created for others. Some of the more memorable characters, like Ruby, faded away too soon, and I couldn't empathize with the emotional struggles of the first Billie and his hostility towards his ...more
This book flowed well through the generations. Even though it typically only covered a short period of time for the main characters you understood them well. Great descriptive language. Thought provoking book. Will look for others by this author.
Feb 16, 2014 Elizabeth rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Carol? Joyce?
I love the author's prose, and her descriptions of human emotions are very apt and believable. She's got a wonderful, sweeping story here, of 4 generations in a family, and many well-drawn characters. The trouble is that most of them aren't that fun to know, and that their outlook is just SO dismal. I was depressed by most of the book, but the superior storytelling, and the interesting narrative device of snapshots through time and place, made me persevere to finish it (and I no longer force mys ...more
I loved the format of this book-- dipping into a family's life every few years made it feel epic, yet not bogged down. The author had a remarkable way of describing simple things, like the "inky black" of a dog's coat. I loved this one.
Pat Morris
Follows four generations of the Hastings family in England, spanning the years between WWI and present. A capitivating literary journey.
Chris Lytle
Jo Baker's "The Undertow" is not a book I would normally read. However after reading some lengthy, multi-family dramas by Edward Rutherfurd, I thought I would appreciate the meandering story of the Hastings family over four generations. Perhaps what I liked most about this novel was it's poignant use of vignettes to slowly reveal the trials and tribulations of this everyday English family from Edwardian days right up to the present. Each chapter is a seemingly simple snapshot of the daily angst ...more
I won a copy of this book as a First Reads giveaway.

The Undertow is the story of four generations of the Hastings family, spanning from World War I to the present day. The narrative starts with William, who is in the navy during World War I. His son Billy becomes a famous cyclist and eventually participates in the D-Day landings. Billy’s son Will must fight a daily battle to overcome a disability. And Will’s daughter Billie is an artist in present-day London struggling to achieve her dreams. Eac
"A multi-generational" read that flies through the years through family. Family connections are shown in this tale the Undertow. I'll keep this review short and sweet! Um let me say this is not my favorite genre. So this book is basically a scrapbook to me and is written in the third person. This book was written and published in the UK. I liked the novel more than I thought I would. The book is written in that contemporary classic way which I would stick on the same shelf as The Paris Wife, Whi ...more
I received this book via a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

I know I gave this book two stars, but it's not because it was such a terrible book, I was just really disappointed. I guess I set myself up with high expectations because it seems like I should have liked this one.

My first issue was that I never really connected with any of the characters. Beyond the fact that none of them were all that likeable, it was a little annoying that everyone in the family was some variant of William. Towards th
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Jo Baker was born in Lancashire. She was educated at Oxford and at Queen's University, Belfast, where she completed a PhD on the work of the Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen. Her first novel, Offcomer, was published by William Heinemann in 2001. Her second book, The Mermaid's Child, is was published in August 2004. Jo Baker has also written for BBC Radio 4, and her short stories have been includ ...more
More about Jo Baker...
Longbourn The Telling The Mermaid's Child Offcomer The Other Story

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