0131 | Waterland – Graham Swift


Context: Read large parts of this while doing a loooong backup on my laptop.

Now this is an interesting book. It’s interesting because, as far as I know, it’s a rare novel about the Fens. This is the area of the UK that I spent my first five years in and where my sister was born. Flat, flat, flat farmland – a curious landscape. And the landscape, as in Toibin’s The Heather Blazing and Wharton’s Ethan Frome plays a sinister part as any other in the story.

Swift writes very evocatively tying together threads of history that, at first, seem unconnected. But this isn’t as contrived as Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Instead, he take the time to thoroughly layer the age-old foundation to each character and situation so that, when it all comes together, it has a bitter serendipity about it.

The story is of a man and his wife, the products of generations and the victims of them as well perhaps. It is about irony and pain, about the way that seemingly innocent childhood events can make a deep and lasting impression on us well into our dotage. 

I liked it, despite it not being at all cheery, because it helped me empathise. And I learned all I think I’ll ever need to know about eels.

‘And don’t forget,’ my father would say, as if he expected me at any moment to up, and leave to seek my fortune in the wide world, ‘whatever you learn about people, however bad they turn out, each one of them has a heart, and each one of them was once a tiny baby sucking his mother’s milk…’

On the bank, in the thickening dusk, in the will-o’-the-wisp dusk, abandoned but vigilant, a motor-cycle.

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