four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
59-July-Aug-2012
By: 
Graham Swift
user_rating: 
0

748308.pngBritish writer Graham Swift is the author of nine novels, including Shuttlecock (1981), Waterland (1983), Last Orders (1996, winner of the Booker Prize), and Tomorrow ( 1.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2007).

The Story: In autumn 2006, on the Isle of Wight off the southern coast of England, the middle-aged Jack Luxton, who runs a seaside caravan park with his wife, Ellie, learns that his estranged brother, Tom, a soldier in Iraq and his only remaining close relative, has died in combat. Though the novel takes place over the course of only a few days in the present, it snakes through Jack's past and offers perspectives on the lives and events that affected him: his father, a local dairyman, who committed suicide after a cancer diagnosis; the tragedy of 9/11; and the epidemic of mad cow disease that helped decimate his farm. As Jack prepares to repatriate the remains of his brother, haunting memories push him to the brink of madness and possible destruction.
Knopf. 319 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780307700124

NYTimes Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Guns go off in the novel; there are weddings; there are funerals; there are inquests and revelations; hearts break; smoke rises from pyres. But none of these events happen in quite the order, or for the reasons, you would expect. Moving gracefully and without fanfare among multiple points of view, the novel might be said to evoke a collective psychic wound." Stacey D'sErasmo

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Wish You Were Here is an extraordinary novel, the work of an artist with profound insight into human nature and the mature talent to deliver it just the way he wants. Honestly, I can'st remember when I cared so passionately about how a novel might end." Ron Charles

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] bleak novel, which belongs on that select list of good, depressingly unforgettable novels along with Joseph Heller's Something Happened, Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road and Swift's own Waterland. As in many of Swift's novels, information is provisional, and events are initially told in fragments, and then, eventually those fragments are pieced together into a more complete picture." John Broening

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"At times the book feels constructed less out of chapters than Venn diagrams. The strategy demands patience, but it's effective: It helps Swift create a rich, stereoscopic portrait of the book's hero, Jack Luxton." Mark Athitakis

Globe and Mail (Canada) 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Swift's gamble on a jumbled, backward-glancing structure is unfortunate, given the nuanced insights of what belatedly becomes a heartfelt story of love and loss. With its slippery narrative chronology (back then or then or then, not now) most of Wish You Were Here prepares a story instead of telling a story." Darryl Whetter

Critical Summary

"The past is past, and the dead are the dead," Ellie says. But in Wish You Were Here‚ about the human spirit, fraternal love and jealousy, and our inability to escape the past‚ the past is very much alive. Although the novel, with its alternating perspectives, slippery chronological circling, and fragmented storytelling, requires some patience, that message becomes a clear, profound meditation on human nature. "The depth of field in a Swift novel, thematically and emotionally, is vast," notes the New York Times Book Review. "At his best, he suggests that looking intently at the smallest, most mundane thing can yield a glimpse into the meaning of life." Though Swift is somewhat of an acquired taste (akin to a Philip Glass symphony, says the Washington Post, so not for everyone), Wish You Were Here is a subtle, tender portrait of the troubles of our modern age.