Waterland by Graham Swift. New York. 1983. Poseidon Press. 310 pages. Jacket design by Fred Marcellino. 0671498630.




   Hailed in England as ‘the best novel of the year’ and nominated for the Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award, WATERLAND is a novel of resonant depth and encyclopedic richness. It is also a book about beer, eels, the French Revolution, the end of the world, windmills, will-o’-the-wisps, murder, love, incest, education, curiosity, storytelling and - supremely - the malign and merciful element of water. One bright summer morning in 1943 Henry Crick, a lock-keeper, finds young Freddie Parr’s body floating in his lock. Although the death is termed an accident, Henry Crick’s son Tom knows otherwise, and bears the secret for life, Forty years later, Tom, now a history teacher besieged by a bizarre marital crisis and the ‘phasing out’ of history from his school’s curriculum, abandons his formal lessons to tell his students stories of his native Fenland, an ambiguous, amphibious domain where past and present intermingle, where the drama of loss and reclamation is written in the landscape. Tom Crick traces for his listening class the tragedies and changing fortunes of his forebears: how his eighteenth-century ancestor Thomas Atkinson dredged a river, built an empire, then broke his young wife Sarah’s head in a jealous rage and died of grief; how Sarah survived for fifty years, deprived of her senses, to become a local deity; how his grandfather Ernest fell in love with his own daughter and fathered a child he believed would become Saviour of the World, And he tells them of the fateful repercussions of that summer morning in 1943, which still trap the aging Crick in the consequences of events long ago. WATERLAND is a moving meditation on history, on procreation, on destruction, and on our struggles to shore up our small worlds against the onrushing forces of time and nature.


Swift GrahamGraham Colin Swift (born 4 May 1949) is a English writer. Born in London, England, he was educated at Dulwich College, London, Queens' College, Cambridge, and later the University of York. Some of Swift's books have been filmed, including Last Orders, starring Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins and Waterland, starring Jeremy Irons. Last Orders was joint-winner of the 1996 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and a mildly controversial winner of the 1996 Booker Prize, owing to the superficial similarities in plot to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Waterland is set in The Fens; a novel of landscape, history and family, it is often cited as one of the outstanding post-war British novels and has been a set text on the English literature syllabus in British schools. Writer Patrick McGrath asked Swift about the ‘feeling for magic’ in Waterland during an interview. Swift responds that ‘The phrase everybody comes up with is magic realism, which I think has now become a little tired. But on the other hand there’s no doubt that English writers of my generation have been very much influenced by writers from outside who in one way or another have got this magical, surreal quality, such as Borges, Márquez, Grass, and that that has been stimulating. I think in general it’s been a good thing. Because we are, as ever, terribly parochial, self-absorbed and isolated, culturally, in this country. It’s about time we began to absorb things from outside.’ Swift was acquainted with Ted Hughes and has himself published poetry of note, some of which is included in Making an Elephant: Writing from Within (2009).






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