Sunday, November 2, 2008
Waterland by Graham Swift
Waterland, by Graham Swift, has been patiently sitting on my bookshelves waiting for me to get to it. My only regret after reading it, is that it took me so long to read this one. I've had an incredible reading run lately, with books that have really impressed me for various reasons, and Waterland is definately on that list.
The book follows Tom Crick, a history professor in the Fen country of England. His family have always been watermen; his father a lock-keeper on the "River Leem, which flows out of Norfolk into the Great Ouse". Tom is at the end of his career, a forced retirement, and is looking back into what formed his life.
The book opens with the discovery of a boy's body in the water by Tom's father. In the process of discovering how the boy died, we meet Tom's brother, Dick, who is mentally challenged, and his first love, Mary Metcalf. We learn about the history of the marshes and rivers in the area, and Tom's family history. He is a descendant of the Crick family and on his mother's side, the Atkinson family, the area's most prosperous family. Finally, as the book unfolds, we learn about the dark secrets that have formed the area's history and that of Tom and Mary.
Graham Swift's language is poetic and the history is mingled in very naturally. We learn how the great events of history, such as World War I, the rise of shipping and it's replacement, train travel or ale brewing, affects an average family. The family secret around which the book turns is hinted at early, and the susequent references build suspense bit by bit until the final revelation. Waterland was a 1983 Booker prize nominee. This book is a masterpiece, and I'm thrilled I read it.