"Last Judgements"

by Marion Glastonbury

[from New Statesman, 7 October 1983]

. . . When Graham Swift tackles the eel that slithers over the cover of Waterland, he lists nine recipes, devotes eight pages to research into the creature's reproductive cycle, cites a proverb associating eels with barrenness in women and shows the curse traumatically fulfilled in the case of the narrator's wife. Waterland is nothing if not thorough.

Tom Crick, a history teacher who is being eased out of his post by a philistine headmaster, embarks on an account of his own childhood and of the toil of his rumbustious ancestors over the centuries in the 'phlegm-hued' Fens. The pupils submit without protest to this flood of didactic reminiscence -- all but Price, a founder of the Anti-Armageddon League, who fears that tomorrow may be cancelled due to lack of interest, and wants to discuss his dread of nuclear destruction.

Though apparently delivered extempore, Mr. Crick's disquisition on land-reclamation is remarkably similar to Trevelyan's observations on the same subject in English School History Volume II Chapter Three. Even so, it is more entertaining than the fictitious climaxes of the saga -- murder and mayhem, rape and incest.

In a satire by Michael Frayn published 20 years ago, the despairing father of a relentlessly imaginative son foresees the lad's authorship of an encyclopaedic novel 'about feuds and forbidden passions through seven generations of a Norfolk rush-cutting community.' Here it is, more or less. Will it win the Booker Prize?

[added by Barry J. Fishman '89]

United Kingdom