Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Monday, 16 May 2011

Wish You Were Here - Graham Swift

I found this a highly moving, intelligent novel and I hope I can do it a bit of justice in my review. In this novel Graham Swift writes movingly about families and relationships, the secrets that are held inside, the things that go unspoken and that we never know about others, and in particular, even about those closest to us. Jack Luxton and his brother Tom grew up at Jebb dairy farm in North Devon, with parents Michael and Vera. A young Jack sends a postcard from the seaside on the two holidays he takes in his childhood with his mother and brother, in which he writes to his young sweetheart Ellie who lives on neighbouring Westcott farm, proclaiming `Wish You Were Here'. Years later, an adult Jack, in his new life as a caravan park proprietor on the Isle of Wight, receives news that brother Tom, now a soldier, has been killed in Iraq, and so begins, with the occurence of this death, the massive literal and actual return journey for Jack, taking a path backwards into the physical country of his past, and into the buried thoughts and people of his past. Primarily, but not always, focusing on Jack, the narrative drifts in time back and forth with the movement of Jack's thoughts and memories, as they intertwine with the present experiences he is going through. 

There is a terrific tension building throughout the novel, right from the scene that is set in the first chapter, in the present, through to the last scene, again in the present. 

I felt that Jack had seemed as if he had not entirely been in control of his life, as if somehow others had made the decisions for him by taking their own paths, and he almost has to follow in the wake of their actions. I think this lies at the heart of how much he questions himself and wonders about the events that have shaped his past and put him where he is today. 
Graham Swift has touched on the climate of fear post September 11, the resulting war on terror, and, at the core of the novel, the changing outlook for farmers since the BSE and foot-and-mouth epidemics, and how the inhabitants of the countryside has changed. 
There is such a sadness hanging over Jack. He is also fearful and begins to imagine some strange scenarios when he returns to the mainland to receive Tom's remains and to attend the funeral. Indeed, the very opening passage of the novel refers to the feelings of madness that seem to have taken hold of his mind at times. 

Altogether I found this an engrossing novel about humanity, one that tries to get to the heart of human relationships, between husband and wife, between brothers, and between a father and mother and son, and the heart-wrenching failings really tear at the reader and illustrate the frustration and heartache that is often simmering beneath our skin or buried but lurking in the back of our minds only to be brought fresh to the fore when something stirs them up. 

I would like to write more but feel that it would begin to give away parts of the novel that should be left for the reader to discover themselves.



  1. I think its a great review and will certainly be keeping an eye out for it. I think since reading HOS I am pulling more to family secret type books


  2. Definitely going to be getting this one. Incredible writer. He's done an interview for the new book here:

    Thanks for the review.

  3. Lainy many thanks for your comment, hope you do enjoy the novel in the future.

    Dave thank you for your comment and for the link, a really interesting interview.


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