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Though The Sweet-Shop Owner (originally published in 1980 in England) was Swift's first novel, it is only now being released in the US. Like Waterland and Shuttlecock (p. 393), Swift's later novels, this is a character study of a troubled older man recalling his personal history. Past and present blend and merge as Willy, owner of a prosperous newsstand and confectionery shop bought for him by his wealthy, neurasthenic wife, now dead, prepares himself for his last day at work. Through exquisitely written scenes, Swift takes us back into Willy's past and down into the secrets of his exhausted heart. With him, we relive his plodding beginnings toiling in a print shop, his meeting with the beautiful woman who becomes his wife, the birth of his daughter, and his own transformation into a successful shopkeeper. However, happiness avoids him: early in his marriage, Willy realizes that his wife doesn't want to live, and that her marriage to him, like her refusal to leave the house, is part of a larger effort to spite and to show her insensitive, condescending family that she will not be what they wanted. Year in and year out, Willy labors, a willing servant to his wife, but when she dies, after years of illness, Willy is at a loss. Trying to hold onto her memory, he refuses to part with her things or her money. This decision drives a further wedge between him and Dorrie, their intellectual, rebellious daughter, leaving nothing in his life except the bustling shop. Like Barbara Pym's Quartet in Autumn, The Sweet-Shop Owner is a small, moving book whose style is as important as its plot. Though Swift's later novels, which use similar techniques, seem quirky and erratic, this first book demonstrates his real promise as a sensitive prose stylist. Full of more emotion and with less surface gloss than the later books, The Sweet-Shop Owner is richly rewarding.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1985
ISBN: 0679739807
Publisher: Washington Square Press/Pocket Books--dist. by Simon & Schuster