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Shuttlecock by Graham Swift


by Graham Swift

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Prentis, senior clerk in the 'dead crimes' department of police archives, is becoming confused. Alienated from his wife and children, and obsessed by his father, a wartime hero now the mute inmate of a mental hospital, Prentis feels unsettled as his boss, Mr Quinn, turns his investigation towards him - and his father.
  JESGalway | May 23, 2018 |
Taut, paranoid and thrillingly strange. Prentis, the first person narrator, begins the book as a petty tyrant at home, who has difficulties at work, and a difficult relationship with his father, a war hero who is now committed to a mental institution in a state of perpetual silence. Part of the strangeness of the book is that the narrator remains likeable and fascinating even as he describes himself as a despicable person. Gradually, he comes to some self-knowledge, although his father's history and mental condition still remain a mystery at the end. Perhaps the conceit that this is being written as it happens, rather than after the fact, doesn't come off, because the the opening is clearly written with the self-knowledge which he really only gains towards the end of the book. But then, one of the main questions of the book is the reliability of history, memory, and "facts." ( )
  sjnorquist | Apr 9, 2014 |
A bit of a strange one this. The novel is essentially made up of two different tales that sort of converge at the end. Set when the book was written (80's) it follows the life of Prentis.

Prentis is a married father of two boys, he works as an office bound investigator of past crimes. The story is written in the first person allowing us to learn his disturbed thought and reasoning behind the treatment of his family. Prentis comes across as extremely unlikable and paranoid. He is convinced that an ongoing investigation he is being asked to look into, involves him and his father and as he digs deeper and deeper (at the expense of his deteriorating home life) the more paranoid he becomes. Disillusioned with his lot in life he tries to force respect from his children and wife but only succeeds in alienating himself further.

The second tale relates to his father who is currently in a nursing home, and not been able to speak for number of months due to a mental trauma. When a young man he was employed as a secret agent during the war and known under the code name 'Shuttlecock', captured as a prisoner of war he later recounts his experiences in a published autobiography. Prentis becomes fascinated with this book and tries to find the answer for his fathers condition within the pages, reading and rereading them.

I don't know why, and it's not something I can easily pinpoint but I just did not enjoy the novel, often as a reader I myself felt left out of plot (in particular following the case where suspects were only referred to as letters). I found the narrative too disjointed and struggled to maintain interest. I can see why other readers have awarded the book 5 stars and I am sure that it has a lot more to offer than I was able to take from it. But, to be honest, it captivated me so little that I just couldn't be bothered trying to find it. ( )
  Bridgey | Jan 1, 2014 |
A curious little number, better than The Light of Day, but not quite up to Waterland and Last Orders. Odious (and deliciously probably unreliable) narrator, but his boss Quinn's an interesting character. The father, who is in a psychiatric hospital (and visited, summoning up for the reader the mother's visit to her daughter in Last Orders) is great to meet through his book which itself becomes a main character. Not called Swift for nothing, he might have written this nearly as fast as I read it, but he's a clever, clever writer, so the unfinished strands are left as questions. I'd recommend it as a quick read. ( )
  emmakendon | Jul 13, 2010 |
Shuttlecock is kind of schizophrenic -- part mystery, part spy novel, part family drama. I don't think any of those aspects of it were done perfectly, but the mixing of them was interesting. The main character Prentis, is despicable, especially at the beginning; in fact, none of the characters are especially likable though some you do feel sorry for. The look at life, family, and people is very honest though, if sometimes brutally so.

Swift's writing unfortunately reminds me of Ishiguro's (I'm not fan of Ishiguro's writing at all), but it isn't bad-- just not my personal taste. I would have liked to see some of the threads pulled a bit more and finalized, though I think Swift is making a point by specifically NOT doing this. I also would label this as a "guy book." For a quick multi-facted read with memorable characters this is a good choice, but given Swift's reputation and awards it was a bit of let-down for me. ( )
  technodiabla | Dec 24, 2009 |
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Today I remembered my hamster: my pet hamster, Sammy, a gift for my tenth birthday.
"How much of a book is in the words and how much is behind or in between the lines?'
Do other fathers have this terror over the breakfast table, when they realize their sons are growing up to be smarter than them?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0330353713, Paperback)

Prentis, senior clerk in the 'dead crimes' department of police archives, is becoming more and more confused. Alienated from his wife and children, and obsessed by his father, a wartime hero now the mute inmate of a mental hospital, Prentis feels increasingly unsettled as his enigmatic boss, Mr Quinn, turns his investigation towards him - and his father. Gradually Prentis suspects that his father's breakdown and Quinn's menacing behaviour are connected and the link is to be found in his father's memoirs, "Shuttlecock". 'Excellent, profound' - Alan Hollinghurst, "London Review of Books". 'An astonishing study of forms of guilt, laced with a thread of detection, and puckering now and then into outrageous humour' - "Sunday Times". 'A superbly written claustrophobic account of power that corrupts private and public life and of guilt that becomes obsession' - "Daily Telegraph". 'Swift's central strength as a writer is his integrity. Story and character are treated with a seriousness and respect that while allowing for the oddity of human behaviour - "Shuttlecock" is thoroughly and beautifully odd - always honours them' - "Times Literary Supplement". 'Serious, moving and often very funny indeed' - "Observer".

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:29 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Prentis, senior clerk in the dead crimes division of the London police department, suspects his boss is trying to drive him crazy. In a race against his own sanity, he uncovers a trail of blackmail and horror that leads to his own father.

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