Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift
|Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: Combining farming and the Iraq war, this is a stunning piece of writing. Often heart-wrenching, but also gripping, this will move you. It's not the cheeriest of reads this summer, but it's stunningly moving.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: June 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
I cannot tell you exactly how long after I finished this book that I sat, holding it, in stunned silence for - but it was light when I finished it and dark when I put it down. Some books can do that to you. This is one of them.
When we first meet former Devon farmer, Jack Luxton, on a caravan park on the Isle of Wight it's pretty clear that he and his wife, Ellie have had a pretty big problem. Subtle things like, he's sitting on his bed with a loaded shotgun behind him and she's cowering in the car in a lay-by sheltering from the torrential rain, kind of give you that impression. But what exactly has transpired you'll have to wait until near the end to find out and what happens next is only revealed in the final gripping pages. In the meantime, we get their past stories, their families' stories and how they came to the Isle of Wight.
Jack is a sort of Heathcliff type of character. He's the strong, silent type and to be fair, if only he and Ellie had talked a bit more about stuff along the way, things might have been a bit different for them both. Both have been through a fair bit, and Jack in particular has had an eventful few years to put it mildly. Then again, we wouldn't have had this book, would we?
Now, I'll be honest here, this is the umpteenth time I've written this review because I cannot figure out what to tell you that has occurred. If you read the publisher's blurb it pretty much tells you a core part of the story and I'm not sure that I'd want to give that much away. Let me put it this way, if you have read that, let me confirm that Swift handles that whole passage of the story with breathtaking sensitivity. But I'd rather keep that a mystery and let it unfold for you if you don't mind (but avoid reading the cover too!).
What I can tell you is that the following things are all brought into play at some point: mad-cow disease; foot and mouth disease; and the Iraq war. There's also a lot of death - both animal and human. It's not a cheery summer read by any stretch of the imagination. Swift makes frequent hinted suggestions to things (for example cows were killed as a preventative measure in the mad-cow outbreak, not because they were sick, while of of the arguments for the Iraq war was effectively a preventative measure) but these are never rammed home - they just float around the reader's mind. It's so much more satisfying when the reader has to so some work!
The author is also singularly inappropriately named when it comes to his plot. Absolutely nothing about his story-telling is 'swift'. Rather, it's drawn out in meticulous and often quite painful detail as the characters seem to encounter each event in real time. The plot always has pathos, but seldom pace; it's totally captivating. It progresses very much at a rural pace rather than an urban pace. But there's such a beautiful tone to the writing and it's so moving that I cannot imaging it failing to move anyone. And for all the slowness of the story unfolding the final chapters are completely gripping and you really don't know what's going to happen - although you will have a few ideas. If that makes it all sound a bleak read, then that's my own inadequacies - it's far from bleak. There's too much humanity in it for that, but it is sad and it is moving.
It's a book about many things - the attachment to the land, the decline of rural England and changing priorities, but it's also a very human story. Jack's story.
Swift has already won one Man Booker prize - this deserves another nomination.
Our huge thanks to the kind folk at Picador for inviting The Bookbag to review 'Wish You Were Here'.
For another excellent book that explores the relation to the land, in France this time, Trespass by Rose Tremain is well worth checking out.
You can read more book reviews or buy Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift at Amazon.com.
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