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Waterland

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Children, beware the paternal instinct whenever it appears in your officially approved and professionally trained mentors. If we did, we’d forgotten—Crick is so keen to contrast the phlegmatic Cricks, his ancestors, with the enterprising Atkinsons—and we realise he’s performed another bit of sleight of hand on us. Why would the wily adult Crick describe in such detail the catching and mounting of a huge pike on the last day of WW1, presented to I can’t remember which family member for I can’t remember what reason, and now safely out of the way on the wall of Dick’s room? Masculinity and Identity: The novel explores themes of masculinity and identity, particularly through the character of Tom, who struggles to come to terms with his own sense of self and place in the world. Waterland is concerned with the nature and importance of history as the primary source of meaning in a narrative.

It starts, but not necessarily in the narrative’s fractured chronology, with an inquest and a verdict: accidental death. It’s as though Crick, or some historical imperative, is reminding us all that women have a power that men ignore or marginalise at their peril. The first chapter narrates an event in Crick’s childhood, the second is where we find out about the trouble he’s in at work in the current timeline—and the third, About the Fens, consists of eleven pages of the history of the region up to, and including, his father Henry Crick’s appointment as lock-keeper. History is a narrative created by people which means historical documents can have biases and inaccuracies according to who wrote the documents, or whether such documents have been preserved in time. It’s a part of the collaging of stories that this one, from 1943, contributes to our understanding of exactly what a ‘Fenland’ marriage would be like in the early 80s.Works of historiographic metafiction examine how history itself is a narrative and thus readers must examine the truth and lies in the historical record. Graham Swift was born in 1949 and is the author of eleven novels,two collections of short stories, including the highly acclaimed England and Other Stories, and of Making an Elephant, a book of essays, portraits, poetry and reflections on his life in writing.

Le roman est dense et riche, mais aucun élément n'est gratuit: tout s'enchaîne, tout s'agence admirablement bien, preuve que le romancier maîtrise parfaitement son oeuvre. Chapter 9, which I’ve just finished reading, is a 37-page history of the (fictitious) family that was largely responsible for draining and developing this part of Fenland. If this sounds cryptic, it doesn’t feel it as we read, because two different, hidden truths about fatherhood make themselves known—because noting in this novel is hidden forever. Tom and Mary have married and moved to the town by now, and as she nurses Henry, he continually mistakes her for the long-dead Helen. Ernest had never denied it, of course, and neither had Henry ever tried to do anything to let Dick know the truth.

This is a sophisticated literary work but also a gripping and twisted story of family, dynasty and trauma. We also get to find out that the Atkinson heir who brought it about was Ernest, the father of Crick’s mother Helen. I’ll come back to Swift’s description of it in these early chapters—which, after all this time, I still think is spot-on.

The more I read, the more I’m convinced his main reason for telling this story is to stop himself going mad.

Compulsively readable, it is a novel of resonant depth and encyclopaedic richness, mixing human and natural history and exploring the tragic forces that take us both forwards and back. Graham Swift was born in 1949 and is the author of many acclaimed novels, two collections of short stories ( England and Other Stories , and Learning to Swim and Other Stories ) and Making an Elephant , a book of essays, portraits, poetry and reflections on his life in writing.

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