Graham Swift's keenly awaited novel, Light of Day
, his first since the Booker Prize-winning Last Orders
of 1997, is a kind of murder mystery. There is a detective, and there is a death at the heart of the story. Yet the death, as Light of Day
begins, is two years in the past; and the detective, the sole narrator of this elusive tale, does no recognisable detecting. Over the course of a single November day, he visits a crematorium to leave flowers on the grave of the victim; later he enters the seclusion in which the person who caused that death lives. The detective is George Webb, once a policeman but now a "disgraced" private investigator with a penchant for cooking (learned, it would seem, from the River Café
books). The dead man is Bob Nash, a gynaecologist, the killer his wife Sarah, a language teacher; the inevitable other corner of the triangle, and the catalyst of the two-year-old drama, is Kristina, a Croatian refugee to whom they have kindly offered shelter. The mystery into which George penetrates, speculatively, circumspectly, as he goes about his day, is not about who
wielded the weapon--that's clear almost from the start--but why
. For, although George's is the witnessing eye, he was merely an observer of the unfolding of the eternal triangle--at first dispassionate, then concerned, then horrified. He is no omniscient narrator: there are actions and motives that will always remain obscure, at least to George. Like life, really.
Swift is an extraordinarily parsimonious novelist: plot and language are spare to the point of dullness; and he sets Light of Day almost entirely in a tightly bound and vividly rendered corner of South-West London encompassing Wimbledon and its environs. Yet the careful repetitions and hesitations, as George gropes his way towards the meaning of the fateful act, mirrored in his slow progress from Wimbledon Broadway across the Common to Putney Vale and its crematorium, give this apparently slight story considerable cumulative power. And at the centre of all the unfolding intricacies, as George turns his thoughts from the past to the future, is the bright, clear hope of freedom and love embodied in the novel's title. --Robin Davidson