x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Wish You Were Here: poignant but joyless

Graham Swift's work about a caravan park owner mourning the death of his brother lacks a single note of humour or blithe reminiscence to lighten its dejecting tone.

Wish You Were Here
Graham Swift
Picador
Dh78
Wish You Were Here Graham Swift Picador Dh78

Only someone from the country could describe the smell of cow dung as the best smell and mean it.

Jack Luxton does mean it, but after mad-cow disease forces the culling of his family's entire herd and his younger brother Tom "escapes" from Devon to join the British army, who could blame him for also choosing a different life?

Years have passed without word from Tom; Jack has buried their father, cashed in and moved with his wife to the Isle of Wight to run a caravan park near the seaside. Then one day a letter arrives advising Jack of his brother's death while serving in Iraq.

A tsunami of grief and remorse rushes over him - for his little brother but also for the last link to his birthright now extinguished.

Graham Swift's handling of the mourning process - from Jack's initial shock and through various stages of reflection - is poignant but joyless, without a single note of humour or blithe reminiscence to lighten the dejecting tone of the book.

Jack looks to his wife for support only to witness her relief. To her, Tom was merely a loose end now neatly tied up.

Or is it? As Jack makes the journey back to Devon to attend his brother's funeral, his mind is ticking like a John Deere.