Monday, June 4, 2012

Review: Wish You Were Here, by Graham Swift

On the Isle of Wight, the owner of an RV park waits alone in his bedroom.  A shotgun lies, loaded, on the bed beside him.  His wife sits a few short miles away, in a wind-rocked, rain-lashed Cherokee, wondering if she should cut loose, or return home.

How has it come to this?  In slow, steady strokes, Graham Swift traces how Jack Luxton's ancestral farm was decimated by epidemics of hoof-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease; how his brother abandoned the farm to join the army; the death of his parents; Jack's sale of his ancestral lands; and the ultimate impact on Jack of his brother's death in Iraq.

Of the various writers from Ireland and the Commonwealth that I enjoy reading--including John Banville, Julian Barnes, Tom McCarthy, Ian McEwan, and David Mitchell--Graham Swift is perhaps the least given to flashy narrative tricks, the most able to disappear inside the voices of his characters.  These are voices are rooted in a sense of place, and in the best of his novels, such as the Booker-nominated Waterland and the Booker-winning Last Orders, Swift explores how modernity uproots those places, leaving the characters exiled, haunted, and, only occasionally, redeemed.

Wish You Were Here may not stand with Swift's various best, but it is still head-and-shoulders above much of this year's fiction.  With its compassionate tone and its suspenseful ending likely, Wish You Were Here is likely to be a serious Booker contender.  Highly recommended.

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