One could hazard the analogy that Graham Swift is to eastern England what William Faulkner was to the South. For at its best moments -- and these connected stories are magnificent specimens of writing -- Waterland is an eloquent account of one man's ancestry and the watery land -- the Fens -- that spawned them. But it is much more than that, and this is where the narrative gets into some trouble; it is also a loud-resounding lament of the loss of the past, the outstripping of human history by the grim reaper of human "progress." In places confused and rambling, this is the nostalgic cry of a high school history teacher named Tom whose subject is being "phased out." "Perhaps history is just storytelling," Tom concludes. Perhaps it is. But it cannot be random storytelling if it is to hold a classroom's -- and a reader's -- interest. Sure enough, Tom does get around to telling the real story, and it is the poignancy, not of random historical events, but of what is most familiar and close to home -- a demented brother born of incest, a sweetheart whose innocent love-play turns to adultlike tragedy, the death of his mother -- that captures and holds our attention. Waterland was nominated for Britain's Booker Prize.
[added by Barry J, Fishman '89]