Graham Swift’s powerful stories analyse Engish life

admin post on June 29th, 2018
Posted in 苏州美甲美睫培训学校


Graham Swift

Simon & Schuster, $35

Perhaps more than any other writer working today, Graham Swift has a knack of crafting stories that sneak up on you. In his Booker-winning Last Orders, there was no high concept and no stylistic trickery. But by the end the cumulative emotional impact was overwhelming, as you belatedly realise how invested you  had become in these seemingly unremarkable people going about their unremarkable lives.

This new short story collection has 25 stories imbued with that same deceptive brilliance, pared down vignettes from a literary alchemist who somehow combines several seemingly ordinary ingredients into something that touches profundity.

If there’s a common thread through these unassuming but deeply humanist stories, it’s a fascination with a particularly English reticence. Often the stories hinge on desires left unarticulated or decisions explained away with clichés: A doctor sees his life in cricketing terms as he flashes back to a seminal game from childhood; a window cleaner likes his fluctuating fortunes in life to the up and down of his window-cleaning work.

Many stories tackle aging with an unusual nuance and sensitivity. For instance Remember This, in which a young husband flushed with a sense of newfound maturity after writing a will with his wife, secretly writes her a love letter. As years pass and their relationship crumbles, it becomes a mocking reminder of his former self. Half a Loaf also sees a man unable to disconnect from his past, as a widower osteopath timidly seeks solace in the company of a younger woman whose back he heals, all the while imagining his wife encouraging him.

The stiff upper-lip demeanour of Swift’s countrymen is wryly observed from an outsider’s perspective in People, as a Greek-Cypriot barber cuts the hair of an elderly customer who has lived with his parents all his life and feels abandoned when they die. Reflecting on how little he knows his long-time customer even as he consoles him, the barber finds himself still mystified by the English reticence after decades in his adopted country.

Other stories locate the war experience as an essential part of Englishness; the masterful Was She The Only One? is set in the wake of World War I. Typically for this low-key collection, however, it doesn’t turn on the tumult of conflict; but rather a soldier’s rage as he misinterprets the ramifications of his shirt being crumpled on his return, a seemingly small moment that changes everything.

For the most part, the people here (it seems to wrong to call them characters, such is their complete and convincing realism) are doggedly unglamorous, neither particularly rich nor poor, rarely miserable or completely content in more than a fleeting way. Often their actions seem guided by some vaguely defined but hugely influential sense of propriety and duty.

Elsewhere, quiet lives are punctuated by reminders of mortality and impermanence. In Dog a middle-aged father attacks an animal that threatens a child at the park and mindful of his own primal instinct to protect his daughter, surprises himself with his reaction to the commotion and how it reveals where his priorities now lie.

Perhaps the most typical story, however, is the muted As Much Love as Possible, where salon owner Sue gets a lift to a girls night out from her husband’s friend. It touches on ageing, long-buried illicit desire and the transformative nature of parenthood, but it’s in the still, contemplative moments that it really soars. Even when nothing much is seemingly happening, you can’t stop reading.

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