Posts Tagged ‘Graham Swift’

‘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

 

 

 

 

‘Mothering Sunday – A Romance’ by Graham Swift – A Perfect Novella

 

‘Mothering Sunday’ by Graham Swift   (2016) – 177 pages

 

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“Once upon a time…”  Thus  ‘Mothering Sunday’ begins that old reliable way, and by its end it fulfills my ideal of the perfect novella.

It is a simple story with broad insights into maids, class, love, sex, war, and writing.  It takes place on Sunday March 30, 1924.  Two rooms in the Sheringham manor have been left unchanged since two of their sons left for World War I never to return.  Remaining son to the manor-born Paul Sheringham is soon to be married to his arranged fiancé.  However the day is Mothering Sunday which is the one English day of the year on which domestic servants are given a holiday, and this is Paul’s last chance to dally in bed with the next-door neighbors’ household maid Jane Fairfield, his secret lover for the past six years.  All is told from the maid’s point of view.

‘Mothering Sunday’ captures the sunny ambiance of an unseasonably warm spring day in the Twenties and the sparks of an illicit but romantic love affair.

“It was about being true to the very stuff of life, it was about trying to capture, though you never could, the very feeling of being alive.”  

During the course of the story, we learn Jane Fairfield’s entire biography via flashbacks and flash-forwards from her days in an orphanage up to the time when she is 98 years old and a renowned writer.  As the years go by, the world changes, and new opportunities open up even for a girl who was born as a foundling.   Thank heaven that things are not set in concrete.

“Many things in life – oh so many more than we think – can never be explained at all.”

I completed ‘Mothering Sunday’ in one day, and I am not a fast reader.  Comparisons will inevitably be drawn with that other recent English romantic novella, ‘On Chesil Beach’ by Ian McEwan.  I believe ‘Mothering Sunday’ will hold up very well in the comparison.   From his early novels such as ‘Shuttlecock’ and ‘Waterland’, Graham Swift has been writing excellent unique novels that defy expectations.  Perhaps Swift has been underrated in recent years, but ‘Mothering Sunday’ should change all that.

‘Mothering Sunday’ is a good-natured exquisitely written small slice of life from the 1920s.  I can hardly wait for the movie.

 

Grade:   A   

 

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