WISH YOU WERE HERE by Graham Swift
Best of 2012
Kirkus Star

WISH YOU WERE HERE

KIRKUS REVIEW

A novel as contemporary as international terrorism and the war in Iraq and as timeless as mortality, from one of Britain’s literary masters.

“The past is past, and the dead are the dead,” was the belief of the strong-willed Ellie, whose husband, Jack, a stolid former farmer, is the protagonist of Swift’s ninth and most powerful novel. As anyone will recognize who is familiar with his prize-winning masterworks (Last Orders, 1996, etc.), such a perspective on the past is in serious need of correction, which this novel provides in a subtly virtuosic and surprisingly suspenseful manner. It’s a sign of Swift’s literary alchemy that he gleans so much emotional and thematic richness from such deceptively common stock. Jack and Ellie have grown up together in the British farm country, and their marriage is practically inevitable once both are on their own. Jack’s mother died when he was a boy; Ellie’s left home for another man. Jack’s brother, Tom, eight years younger but in many ways more worldly and self-assertive, forsakes the farm life to join the army as soon as he can. The fathers of Jack and Ellie both die; Tom remains out of contact for more than a decade. At Ellie’s insistence, they sell their property in order to run a seaside vacation park she has inherited. Every winter the childless couple takes a Caribbean vacation. When Tom dies in Iraq, Jack must deal with the arrangements. He cancels the annual vacation and his marriage all but unravels. The minister who had handled the funeral of Jack’s father and now his brother knows that the eulogy needs to be “as little and simple as possible…as simple as possible being really the essence of the thing.” Swift somehow cuts to the essence of both a family’s legacy and the modern malaise through the reticent Jack, who comes to terms with the realization that “all the things that had once been dead and buried had come back again.”

Profound empathy and understated eloquence mark a novel so artfully nuanced that the last few pages send the reader back to the first few, with fresh understanding.

 

Pub Date: April 17th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-70012-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2012




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