The Wake and the Manuscript is a philosophical novel which considers a series of issues including death, indoctrination and for me, ultimately, the nature of (formal) education. The style of the book gives a feeling of claustrophobia, firstly because of its format – there is no use of paragraphs, so the stream of ideas, and the story itself feels continuous and dense. The book is also primarily set in a single room, as the protagonist, an academic, sits next to the body of a recently deceased acquaintance, someone who he had grown up with when their parents had been part of a religious sect and whose manuscript he had grappled and fought with over a number of years. This, together with the intensity of the writing itself instilled an interesting reaction in the way I engaged with the book.
I don’t want to give too much away as I think you need to meet this text on its own terms, and I would hazard a guess that what you get from the novel will in many ways depend on your own interests and perspectives. As an educationalist I found the core arguments put forward within the eponymous manuscript fascinating, setting up a clear dichotomy between the philosophy of the academic and that of the recently deceased man about the utility and nature of formal education. This led to a long and increasingly diverse discussion between me and my partner as we chewed over the themes that emerge from the description of the manuscript and the academic’s reaction to it. We reflected particularly on education and class, and the assumptions we make and the impact of positionality in how we critique the messages in the manuscript and their relationship to issues of class. For me personally, it also throws up questions of the academic endeavour, how we can be as guilty of herd mentality and ideas of what is acceptable as anyone else, and how we treat those whose ideas might be opposed to our own. But these are the things which emerged for me, the text is so rich I am sure others will see something completely different.
This book is not an easy read at times, but it is fascinating in both its approach and its themes. It deserves time and should have you thinking long and hard well after you have finished the book itself.
Some reflections on things I'm reading