Wish You Were Here, By Graham Swift | The IndependentWe still know little for sure about the prospects for intelligent fiction in a digital age. Yet most observers agree that the status of the professional "career novelist", one devoted to an exacting craft that builds over many books into a shelf that makes sense, may shift from that of a rare species to a deeply endangered one. Read Graham Swift — this quietly commanding new novel, and the eight that preceded it before and after the big splash of his third book Waterland in — and feel the weight of what we stand to lose. Single-minded, gimmick-proof, Swift's fiction has paid unswerving attention, in both the fine detail of his prose and the wide architecture of his forms, to what the critic Raymond Williams called "structures of feeling". These novels have grown organically into a social-emotional record of modern English experience sensed on the pulse, on the tongue — in the heart. Future historians should trust them above headlines.
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Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift: review
Jack hails from north Devon, specifically Jebb Farm, where he grew up with his parents, Michael and Vera, and his younger brother Tom, who eventually runs off to join the Army. Now, as he sits at an upstairs window on a stormy day in November , ruminating and remembering, Jack is a large man in his late thirties, and the last of the Luxtons. At 62, and with eight novels behind him, Swift has terrific instincts about how to manage a novel. Wish You Were Here tells a simple tale but renders it intriguing and intricate by the refusal of chronology and shifts in point-of-view. Jack is a decent, thoughtful man, and Swift provides a resonant portrait of his mental weather, but the reader is nevertheless relieved to spend some time with a character capable of making a silly joke or using a modern colloquialism, and the more worldly Ellie comes closer to fitting the bill. And looming behind this ruin is the tale Vera used to tell Jack before Tom was born about two Luxton brothers, Fred and George, who died at the Somme on the same day. But Wish You Were Here is not just a generational saga.
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G raham Swift has chosen a line from William Blake to serve as the motto for his new novel, Wish You Were Here , but he might just as well have picked the famous opening of Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth": "What passing-bells for those who die as cattle? Swift has a good eye for the way large stories and small ones intersect and here he has managed to turn a novel about a brief marital spat into a reflection on Englishness and its decline. Mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease and the effects on the countryside of second homes play their part, along with the attack on the World Trade Centre, the vague war on terror and the two rather less vague wars that it precipitated, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The immediate story covers just a few days and frames, like his Booker-winning novel Last Orders , a journey to a funeral of sorts ; but the novel spends as much time in the past as in the present. The Luxton boys are the last descendants of an old farming family in north Devon. Farming and patriotism run in the blood, and when Tom, the younger son, turns 18, he runs away from unhappiness at home to join the army, leaving Jack to look after their father and the farm.