The Booker Prize-winning author’s sure to have another award on the way as his simple, elegant writing strikes emotional chords and forgotten memories.
How do you despair?
A conspicuous undercurrent of grief courses through Graham Swift’s latest book, Wish You Were Here. It is an exploration of sentiments and recollections of a married couple, already haunted by their shared history when another tragedy strikes. Set in 21st century England coasting the beautiful Isle of Wight, life is none the more rural for Jack Luxton, a descendant of dairy farmers, who at the height of bovine-borne disease had exchanged his family’s debt-ridden farm for a living as proprietor of holiday caravans. With hardly any family left except his wife Ellie, he has not been in contact with younger brother Tom, a soldier, for nearly thirteen years since the latter left the Luxtons’ crumbling patriarchal gaze. When Jack receives news belatedly of Tom’s death as casualty of an Iraq bombing, he turns inward, imposing a wall between him and Ellie, and a journey of regret, resilience and reconciliation ensues.
Swift, a Booker Prize-winning fictionist for Last Orders in 1996, has a gem of a novel that will shine resplendently among his finest works. London’s The Times has captured Swift’s essence, in that he “is set apart by his acute observation and thrilling exactness of description.” In Wish You Were Here the measure of Swift’s powers comes to full effect as he graces us with the intricate (if intimate) nuances of small-town men and the magnificent desolation of the countryside. He amicably ushers us in an almost unhurried pace, to be acquainted and acclimatize with his story’s body politic – their actions, emotions and thoughts – as if setting a stage for us to intrude, and by chance interact with this strangely personal setting. We, as readers, might sense a vague unease amid a natural curiosity to invade the privacy of these characters’ lives, but it is their lives that become effective mirrors of our own idiosyncrasies – of words that fail to be uttered, of deeds undone, of feelings never reciprocated, of yearnings lingering steadfastly to be satisfied.