Friday, 27 March 2009

Waterland - Graham Swift

This book has taken me absolutely ages to read. For one reason or another, in the last couple of weeks I've only popped down to the Quiet Room at work during my lunch break once to read and that's made a surprising difference to my pace! Perhaps I am also more conscious of my reading speed as I am keen to fine myself as much as possible at the moment and am also desperate to get onto some of the books I bought "for my holiday" as I clearly can't take them all with me so I might as well start on some now.

I've had a copy of Waterland on my shelf since Graham Swift won the Booker prize for Last Orders in 1996 (and yes - there's a copy of that on the TBR pile too) and, despite being set in the East Anglian fens, I've just never got around to reading it. My trigger this time was that I was going to see Graham Swift talk as part of the current UEA lit fest on Wednesday night so thought I had better read at least one of his books first! In the end, Dad and I played hooky and had dinner instead which makes me feel slightly guilty but then we did have a very pleasant evening!

Enough rambles and on to the book! Waterland is a non-chronological narration of the life of Tom Crick , a history teacher, that covers his early years, events in the present time and the lives of some of his ancestors. The location for much of the story is the fens, the Waterland of the title, and the impact that living there has on the lives we follow. As well as being a social history, there's also a murder, a love story and an exploration of how the past comes back to haunt the future.

This book is so beautifully written. There are so many layers to the story that I am sure I didn't appreciate some of the nuances of the narrative as I was reading and perhaps that's why it took me so long. There is a real sense of inevitability hanging over the characters that I wanted to almost savour the story before events were actually revealed. As well as the central story itself, I really enjoyed some of the tangential asides and, as odd as this may sound, the chapter on eel reproduction in particular was both illuminating and interesting!

Based on this reading experience, I'll definitely have to give Last Orders a dusting off as well. Although finding a book this good that's been lurking on the TBR pile for over ten years makes me wonder what else I should dig out at the same time!

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