I admire Swift for his gritty prose lingering throughout Wish You Were Here. It is a novel peppered with such utter bleakness and depression that many writers, and indeed readers, would usually shun its concept. For me to truly convey how I feel about the book, it must be done with great care. Care to avoid the dreaded spoiler; one in particular, would be the ending.
The other spoiler is emblazoned on the rear cover, within the blurb. This spoiler, should you even have a passing interest in the book is of course expected when reading. This is a shame, actually, as it would have added a greater impact to the story.
Having said that, the blurb may not have been as appealing if it had described the story of a depressed man, Jack Luxton, and his memories of his family. That’s not to say that family melodrama isn’t an appealing area for storytelling, but the farmlands of Devon during the times of Mad Cow disease and Foot and Mouth are certainly not as appealing.
Returning to my mention in the opening paragraph, Wish You Were Here is intensely depressing. Many of its pages contain morose and dark attitudes that can at times feel oppressing. But therein lays Swift’s talent. Books don’t have to be cheery. Despite the misery, there lies a story of a man who seemingly dislikes who he is and where he has come from. But being a stubborn man, Jack still has a pride that makes it difficult for him to convey his true feelings.
Much of the novel is told within flashbacks as Jack sits in his bedroom, full of foreboding and his Wife sits in her car, in the rain, each of them thinking back to the old days and how their lives reached this tumultuous moment.
This review is awfully cryptic, but you see, it needs to be for the true emotion and feeling of Swifts work to carry over. It is a story of pride, sensibility and loss. One that many people will pause and relate to as they read. And all buffered by Swift’s brilliant use of the English language. His descriptions of the English countryside have a majesty that only comes from standing in the mud on a misty morning. He says the words that we all want to find on such a day.
I do have one issue with the novel, however. The ending. Despite the author’s best work coming in the preceding pages, the final handful is somewhat of a letdown. It’s hard to say why here for fear of letting the proverbial “cat out of the bag”, suffice to say that Swift went in a direction that contradicted much of what came before. It’s not a terrible ending; it’s enjoyable, in fact. But it just doesn’t click and I’m still left thinking about it, weeks after I turned the last page.
What I have tried to convey here, under a cloak of “Oh no, I can’t really say that” is that Graham Swift has written a book that communicates a misery that anyone can feel and can feel that they may never return from. It’s tough to read, yes, but masterful nonetheless. I smell a Booker nod for Swift when the longlist is announced.
Wish You Were Here was kindly sent by the publisher and is available now.