"A Swift Arrival"

by Walter Clemons

[from Newsweek, 24 June 1985]

Last year Graham Swift's Waterland introduced a 35-year old British novelist of such unusual power that reviewers compared him with Faulkner, Melville, Hardy, Sterne, Grass and Garcia Márquez. Set in the flat, watery fens of eastern England, Swift's complex novel combined an extravagantly Gothic family saga -- involving incest, murder, mental retardation and kidnapping -- with discursions on human history, the reclamation of land from the sea and the life of the eel. If you missed it, Waterland is now out in paperback (Washington Square. $6.95). It's a prodigious book, already translated into 10 languages, and a highly enjoyable one.

The publishers of Waterland have now brought out Swift's three earlier books, previously unpublished here: two novels, The Sweet Shop Owner and Shuttlecock (Washington Square, Paper, $7.95 each), and a collection of short stories, Learning to Swim (Poseiden, $14.95). They also recently flew their author over for his first visit to America. Swift is skinny, soft-spoken, funny and highly intelligent. The Cambridge-educated son of a civil servant, he's used to disappointing interviewers who expect a primitive from the fens: "When I went to my first big literary party," he says, "I felt it might be better if I'd come in muddy boots. Perhaps carrying a bucket of eels." He first saw the fens from the window of a Cambridge train. The bleak landscape fired his imagination, but he did little in the way of first-hand immersion.

[added by Barry J, Fishman '89]

United Kingdom