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Waterland by Graham Swift

Waterland (original 1983; edition 1992)

by Graham Swift

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,807313,871 (3.96)117
Authors:Graham Swift
Info:Vintage (1992), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

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 117 mentions

English (28)  Dutch (3)  All languages (31)
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Meh. I got up to p.78 but found it to be just boring history. There was a story in there somewhere about a modern era history teacher, but that was just too small a component of the book up to this point to keep me going. It was vaguely interesting to read about this lowland area in England...but I'm too old to spend more time on this work when there's better books (I hope!) on my 'to be read' list. ( )
  oldblack | Mar 24, 2016 |
Waterland is a complex novel set in the England’s Fens. The main plot centers on the life and history of narrator Tom Crick. Tom is a middle-aged history teacher who is dealing with his wife’s recent mental breakdown and a school department that no longer values his contributions. Every day he stands in front of a class of teenagers who care little about the past. He abandons his curriculum to tell his class stories about the Fens and about his own life. Tom’s stories revolve around two periods: recent life events in the 1980s and events that occurred in 1943 when a teenager’s body was found floating in the water. As Tom tells his stories, events from the past blend with current events. Stories flow from one point to the next and blur the lines between past and present. On the surface, Waterland is a family saga that traces the narrator’s descendants back to the eighteenth century, however the novel is much more than a family saga. It is in many ways a reflection on the meaning of history and the role of the narrative. Interspersed with the plot there are many digressions on a variety of subjects including the sexual life of eels.

This was an interesting and complicated book that grew on me more I read. The initial pace was very slow for me as the author described the history of the Fenlands. There was a lot of detail about the workings of the waterways and the development of the land. This detailed bored me at times and I admit that I even fell asleep a few times reading the book. Despite the slow start, there was something that kept me engaged. The writing was excellent and there was something clever about the book that make you think deeply about a variety of topics. Some of the subject matter was difficult (incest, mental illness, death & suicide, etc) and the story was a bleak one, but the author’s skill with which he writes about these things is wonderful.

One of the interesting parts of the book is that it is a reflection on the meaning of history and how events are forgotten or remembered. Story telling is a central theme of this novel. I enjoyed the ways in which the river and its surrounding land, paralleled the lives of the characters. I would highly recommend this book for people who enjoy history and historical novels. It is a slow read and fairly complex but worth the effort. It is certainly not the kind of book to pick up for a light read but rather somewhat of an intellectual read that requires some concentration to fully enjoy.

“Children, only animals live entirely in the Here and Now. Only nature knows neither memory nor history. 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.”

I taught you that there is never any end to that question, because, as I once defined it for you (yes, I confess a weakness for improvised definitions), history is that impossible thing: the attempt to give an account with incomplete knowledge, of actions themselves undertaken with incomplete knowledge.

We believe we are going forward, towards the oasis of utopia. But how do we know--only some imaginary figure looking down from the sky (let's call him God) can know--that we are not moving in a great circle?

Children, who will inherit the world. Children to whom, throughout history, stories have been told, chiefly but not always at bedtime, in order to quell restless thoughts; whose need of stories is matched only by the need of adults have of children to tell stories to, of receptacles for their stock of fairy-tales, of listening ears on which to unload those most unbelievable yet haunting of fairy-tales, their own lives; children--they are going to separate you and me.
( )
  JenPrim | Jan 15, 2016 |
Waterland Graham Swift
3.5 stars for enjoyment 4.5 stars for writing

Waterland is a sprawling family saga set in the English fenlands a flat, wet, peaty, marshy land where only those who have an affinity for water would want to live.

Our narrator is Tom Crick a history teacher whose life is disintegrating around his ears all due to historical events which have far reaching consequences.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the concept of history, personal as well as world history, being cyclical something we as humans have failed to learn from. At one point Tom makes the claim that history is what makes us human only animals live solely in the "now" this reminded me of the idea of "now o clock" in Animals People and how the 2 different narrators view time is an interesting contrast.

I also enjoyed the history of the fens, the details about dredging and lock keeping, even the curious nature of how and where Eels mate.

What I found difficult were the sections about "holes and things" and how love and relationships are warped throughout the generations.

This is a beautifully written story even if the subject matter is sometimes off putting. Swift handles Toms inevitable downfall tenderly and sympathetically leaving the reader hoping he will find peace and a way to reconcile himself to how life has worked out.

A book that leaves you thinking long after the final page has been read about what it means to love and about what it is that makes a family. ( )
  BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |
I first read this when I was 17. I've just re-read it and still find it a powerful novel, with a landscape that is inherently part of each character's life. Set in the Fens of East Anglia and spanning nearly 300 years, this novel tells the story of the Crick and Atkinson families, whose lives are inextricably linked to the waters and marshland that are the Fens. Told from Tom Crick, the history teacher's perspective, this novel ebbs backwards and forwards through time like the flow of a tide and shows how history goes in circles and is never really escaped. I really enjoyed this. ( )
  sashinka | Jan 14, 2016 |
Englannin kaakkoisosassa on meren pintaa alempana oleva alue. Kirja kuvaa tämän alueen elämää kahden suvun vaiheiden kautta. Viljelykelpoiseksi kuivatettua maata vaivaavat toistuvat tulvat, joista kirja on saanut nimensä.
  trajala14 | Nov 22, 2015 |
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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 . . . "
Children, be curious.  Nothing is worse (I know it) than when curiosity stops.  Nothing is more repressive than the repression of curiosity.  Curiosity begets love.  It weds us to the world. (pg.206)
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:31 -0400)

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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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