‘Here We Are’ by Graham Swift – Back to Brighton

 

‘Here We Are’ by Graham Swift   (2020) – 195 pages

 

You’re in Brighton, folks, so bloody well brighten up!”

 

‘Here We Are” is a Brighton novel. I like Brighton novels. There’s ‘Brighton Rock’ which is prime Graham Greene, and there is wild off-the-wall ‘Berg’ by Ana Quin, and here we are in Brighton again with Graham Swift.

As befits Brighton, ‘Here We Are’ is a small-time verging on big-time show business novel that takes place around 1959. Before there was television there was Brighton, and many of the Brighton entertainers became the early TV stars.

And anyway the show was always just what it was, a flickering summer concoction at the end of a pier.”

This is also a tearjerker romance by a high quality writer. By keeping a narrow focus on only three characters – Jack, Ronnie, and Evie – we get an emotional and believable story which is what I have come to expect from Graham Swift.

Jack is the master of ceremonies. Already a show biz veteran at 28, he is the consummate entertainer, the song and dance man who also can tell a joke. He’s the guy who attracts all the stage door Floras, and he takes full advantage of them.

Ronnie started out in “the humblest of houses in Bethnal Green”, a poorer section of London. His father was away at sea most of the time. When the bombing of London started in the late 1930s, Ronnie’s mother sent him off to safety with a well-to-do childless couple, Eric and Penelope Lawrence, with whom he stayed for almost five years. Mr. Lawrence happened to be a practicing magician and taught Ronnie the tricks of the trade.

Later Ronnie meets Jack in the army after the war, and the two team up as an act. Jack realizes there is something missing from Ronnie’s act and they place the following ad:

Magician’s Assistant Wanted. Suit Young Lady. Previous Stage Experience Essential.”

Enter Evie White. Evie answers the ad, and together Ronnie and Evie become the magic act, Pablo and Eve. They rightly figured all the men in the audience would be so busy looking at Evie, they wouldn’t be looking at the things Ronnie was doing. They become a show major attraction on the pier.

This is a show business story handled adroitly by Graham Swift. I have read a lot of Graham Swift novels over the years starting with ‘Waterland’. Among the male writers that started out with him, Ian MacEwan is probably more dramatic in his approach, William Boyd is more adventurous and humorous, and Kazuo Ishiguro can come up with more spectacular meaningful plots, but no one can draw the feelings out of a reader as well as Graham Swift.

 

Grade:     A

 

 

 

 

3 responses to this post.

  1. I liked this one too. My review went a bit off-piste comparing our beaches with English ones, but when I was back on track, I was focussed on Ronnie’s experience as an evacuee, because my father and his brother were evacuees too.

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    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      I could compare the Australian beaches to the beaches of California, but to the beaches of England, never. That’s why the entertainment pavilions thrived in Brighton, because people didn’t want to go down to the beach. 🙂

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      Reply

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