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Waterland by Graham Swift

Waterland (original 1983; edition 1992)

by Graham Swift

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,690224,225 (3.97)88
Authors:Graham Swift
Info:Vintage (1992), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library

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Waterland by Graham Swift (1983)

  1. 10
    The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker (chrisharpe)
  2. 10
    Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish by James Prosek (ehines)
    ehines: A character in Waterland is fixated by eels: their elusive nature, myths surrounding them, and how the riddle of their origin was finally solved. Waterland is mentioned in the Introduction as one of the inspirations for Prosek's book.
  3. 00
    Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet (tim_halpin)
    tim_halpin: Similar obsession with the connection between History (with a capital H) and ordinary people's lives. Same historical scope. Also, coincidentally, both set in the East of England.
  4. 00
    Ulverton by Adam Thorpe (chrisharpe)

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» See also 88 mentions

English (19)  Dutch (3)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
“That's the way it is: life includes a lot of empty space. We are one-tenth living tissue, nine-tenths water; life is one-tenth Here and Now, nine-tenths a history lesson. For most of the time the Here and Now is neither now nor here.”

Tom Crick is a history teacher about to be sacked because of something that his wife has done and because both his students and the school Head cannot see the relevance of the topic in today's world. So he decides to abandon the syllabus and instead tell his class about his and his family's history on the Fens rather than about the French Revolution thats he supposed to be teaching,

Without wanting to sound jingoistic I believe that,certainly in the latter years of their education, that children, wherever they are in the world, should be taught about their own countries History rather than that of some place that they might never visit thus giving them a background to their own lives. Therefore I loved the idea of History teacher going off piste like this.

Despite being only about 300 pages long this is a 'vast' novel that touches on so many topics. Ranging from the Fens and in particular their reclamation from the sea,childhood and sense of place in later life, incest, sexual awakening, family ties, murder and suicide, eels and even a post apocalyptic world to name but a some. However, probably the most over-riding question is why do humans feel the need to tell stories?

Overall I enjoyed the author's writing style and his descriptions of the vast flatness on the Fens was very evocative but I must also admit that I got a little bogged down in the prose on occasions. Hence it does not quite get full marks but still a very enjoyable read. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jul 13, 2014 |
Masterful, engaging and hugely sweeping epic of the fens and ones man’s life

Why are the Fens flat? So God has a clear view..

Deep breath. Oh where to start and how to describe. This is the story of one man’s life, a desperate monologue from a teacher at the end of his days to his last class. It is the story of his ancestors, their wayward paths culminating in this moment. It is a fascinating look at history of the waterlogged wet lands, of the flat muddy fens in east England and its never ending fight against water. It is an ambitious take on the broad sweep of geography and politics, of good beer and the sex lives of eels. It is a mesmerising exploration of myths and superstitions, of the lies and tragedies, of hope and curiosity of the fens. It is a gripping tale of insanity and murder, of love and gods. An intelligent take on what history means and what it’s for. It is a meta-fictional, wry take on the nature of biographies and all their glories and deceptions and a beautiful playful poke at literary structure. It is a story of stories.

CHILDREN, CHILDREN, who will inherit the world. Children (for always, even though you fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, candidates for that appeasing term ‘young adults’, I addressed you silently as ‘children’) - children, before whom I have stood for thirty-two years in order to unravel the mysteries of the past, but before I am to stand no longer, listen, one last time to your history teacher.

For this is 52 yr old Tom Crick’s last story, an acknowledgement of all that connects him to this moment, of the sweeping tide of history that has carried him to this ephinany of his life. It is at its heart a damn good yarn, a beautiful, heartfelt.. well tragedy or happy, reaffirming redemption? That my friends would be a spoiler.

That Swift managed to write an engaging story in the format of a monologue, that he manages to pack so much in without the dissolution of the whole, that he can weave back and forth in time without confusion and slowly, carefully unfurl a page turning story whilst grappling with heavy weighty themes is stunning. As Swift says in the forward he felt he could get with away with anything and he was right. It may not be to your taste, but it’s a fascinating and easy read nonetheless, one that works on so many levels, ones I haven’t even had space to discuss, I really wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

“But man - let me offer you a definition - is the storytelling animal. Wherever he goes he wants to leave behind not a chaotic wake, not an empty space, but the comforting marker-buoys and trail-signs of stories. He has to go on telling stories. He has to keep on making them up. As long as there's a story, it's all right. Even in his last moments, it's said, in the split second of a fatal fall - or when he's about to drown - he sees, passing rapidly before him, the story of his whole life.”

Highly recommended, one of the best books of the year. ( )
4 vote clfisha | Apr 23, 2014 |
I had a very love hate relationship with this book, I heard such great things about it and it just didn't really live up to my expectations. I think my biggest problem was how drawn out it was. I just felt like everything took ten times the amount of reasonable time needed to explain. I think I must have missed something that other people see in this book. It really did have a few very insightful lines in it and the plot line was actually very good, but some of it felt like the author was trying to make a long complicated book out of a fairly short story. There was a lot of history in the beginning which was actually quite hard for me to get through but when it shifted back to the actual story I couldn't put it down. I just wish it had spent more time on the actual story and not made itself lead heavy in detail. The vocabulary used though is great and its beautifully written, just not for me. ( )
  Klp.Krista | Apr 11, 2014 |
With raw bits of esoteric knowledge scattered throughout, and with a fair amount of reflections on the meaning and making of history, as well as teaching, this novel also proves itself as a masterful and complex story worth taking your time over. Wonderful scenes, poetic language, believable characters, and both humor and heartbreak...and, what's more, the novel feels like a step back to another time and has a clear sense of place. Simply, this is absolutely recommended, and it makes me wonder how I never got around to discovering Swift in the past. A wonderful escape and a beautiful read. ( )
1 vote whitewavedarling | May 19, 2013 |
Not my first book by the author, I read Last Orders wile travelling a few years ago, but I had forgotten his roundabout, yet entertaining, way of spinning a yarn.

Set in the Fens, the characters are as much tied to the land, the titular Waterland. Like the water in its springy earth, the Fens seem to move, retract and then burst their banks as the try to get back to their previous untamed state.

The book has 3 threads. The first is that of a history teacher, Crick, being given his marching orders, partly for his unorthodox teaching methods and partly because of an incident in his personal life. In his classes, he tells the students about the other two threads - the history of his family in the Fens and the death of a childhood friend, both of which have contributed to the current state of events.

Price, a clever boy in Crick's class, questions the relevance of history in a world which has a bleak, if any, future. Written in the early '80s, it is a fear that my own generation dismissed with the fall of the Iron Curtain, only for it to have reared its head again in the wake of 9/11 and the current economic crisis.

The impression you get of the Fens is that of a fierce, resistant people. Resistant to those who tried to tame the waters, independent from the world outside until it strategic position and the source of man power were discovered by the powers that be. I suppose you could argue nature versus nurture, but how can you separate the two when both seem to be governed by the Fens? Most of all, though, there is a feeling of guilt that pervades in its pages - for what has happened, whether it could have been prevented. Absent mothers and madness are two other recurring notes.

Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote soffitta1 | May 12, 2013 |
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"And don't forget," my father would say, as if he expected me at any moment to up and leave to seek my fortune in the wide world, "whatever you learn about people, however bad they turn out, each one of them has a heart, and each one of them was once a tiny baby sucking his mother's milk . . . "
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679739793, Paperback)

Set in the bleak Fen Country of East Anglia, and spanning some 240 years in the lives of its haunted narrator and his ancestors, Waterland is a book that takes in eels and incest, ale-making and madness, the heartless sweep of history and a family romance as tormented as any in Greek tragedy.

"Waterland, like the Hardy novels, carries with all else a profound knowledge of a people, a place, and their interweaving.... Swift tells his tale with wonderful contemporary verve and verbal felicity.... A fine and original work."--Los Angeles Times

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:58:55 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A history teacher besieged by a personal crisis and the "phasing out" of his teaching job abandons his lessons to relate tales of Fenland and his family.

(summary from another edition)

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