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Wish You Were Here [Hardcover]

Graham Swift
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
RRP: 18.99
Price: 15.81 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

3 Jun 2011
On an autumn day in 2006, on the Isle of Wight, Jack Luxton, former Devon farmer and now the proprietor of a seaside caravan park, receives the news that his soldier brother Tom, not seen for years, has been killed in Iraq. For Jack and his wife Ellie this will have a potentially catastrophic impact. For Jack in particular it means a crucial journey—to receive his brother’s remains, but also into his own most secret, troubling memories and into the land of his and Ellie’s past. Wish You Were Here is both a gripping account of things that touch and test our human core and a resonant novel about a changing England. Rich with a sense of the intimate and the local, it is also, inescapably, about a wider, afflicted world. Moving towards an almost unbearably tense climax, it allows us to feel the stuff of headlines—the return of a dead soldier from a foreign war—as heart-wrenching personal truth.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (3 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330535838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330535830
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.6 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 316,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Wish You Were Here ... is a book of quiet emotional integrity ... Swift is a melancholy and compassionate writer. The mood of his new novel is one of hard-won resilience. Wish You Were Here is a title that might be read as a plea, an order, or an expression of fact. The novel expertly explores the poignant contrast between irrepressible human hope and the constraints within which we live our finite lives.' --Ruth Scurr, The Times

'This is a profound and powerful portrait of a nation and a man in crisis, that for all its gentle intensity also manages to be an unputdownable read.' --Scotland on Sunday

'Affecting, powerfully sober prose. Again, Swift unobtrusively excels at capturing the unshowy stoicism of ordinary people coping with tragedy and the tactful decency with which others help them to do so . . . Wish You Were Here is a work of wide, ambitious span . . . What gives it a compelling hold is Swift's real strength, the authenticity that hallmarks his portrayal of people in crisis' --Peter Kemp, Sunday Times Culture

'I doubt there is a better novelist than Swift for this kind of story . . . The great thing about Swift is the way he takes the elements of melodrama but uses them in a calm, unostentatious and utterly plausible way. In doing so he gets to the heart of people. Serious rural novels such as this remind one of Thomas Hardy . . . in the end, the very end of this extraordinary novel he treats [his characters] with pure compassion.' --Nicholas Lezard, Evening Standard

'Swift's portrait of this staunch, stoical man attempting to reconcile mourning with memory is acutely, poetically honest.' --Marie Claire

`Single-minded, gimmick-proof, Swift's fiction has paid unswerving attention, in both the fine detail of his prose and the wide architecture of his forms, to what the critic Raymond Williams called "structures of feeling". These novels have grown organically into a social-emotional record of modern English experience sensed on the pulse, on the tongue - in the heart...Wish you were here burns with a sombre, rather than a pyrotechnic flame. Stick with it; stay close to its hearth. Like the gruff and saturnine folk within it, this novel takes some getting to know - but more than rewards the effort'
--Independent

`Unafraid of emotion, though without a moment of sentimentality, Swift brilliantly conveys the confusion of a man and wife trapped by their unspoken fears and cornered into a life that for one at least feels like banishment' --Sunday Herald

`Swift is on top form and has created rural characters as memorable as those in his magnificent third novel' --Oxford Times

`Graham Swift is an exemplary tour guide of unknown English Lives, a penetrating thinker, a wonderful writer of dialogue and description, a nimble craftsman' --Telegraph Review

`The novel has a small cast and little in the way of dramatic incident - though what there is strong enough to be shocking. Yet this is a full and rich novel and one which demands and holds the reader's attention from beginning to end. It is capable of enlarging and deepening our understanding of those mysterious beings - other people'
--The Scotsman

`[He] continued his long-term project of setting out the complexities within ostensibly simple lives; it was intimate and sad.' --Daily Telegraph Saturday Review

`I was gripped by the subtle tension...which describes a quiet man's slow-burning crisis.'
--Martha Kearney's books of the year

`With pathos rather than comedy its leading note and profound tenderness matched by a lyrical sense of place...[it] took burning questions - overseas wars, dissolving communities, crisis in the countryside - but nourished them with an almost mystical vision of "deep England".'
--Independent

'In a year when the question of "literary quality" has been given a factitious newsworthiness, one might have expected Graham Swift's Wish You Were Here to have received more attention. Swift pares and reduces his prose till we are very close to the bone, yet his novels still manage to layer the echoes and resonances of ordinary speech in subtle ways. His particular technical brilliance lies in his ability to capture the expressiveness of the inarticulate, yet he does so with an empathy that can move the reader to tears. This book is, in its local, quiet way, a Condition of England novel, with national events drumming a painful tattoo on the stretched membrane of vulnerable lives.' --Stefan Collini, TLS Books of the Year

`Grief, loss and memory are the themes of Swift's elliptical novel. Over a single night Jack Luxton, an uprooted farmer who has sold his family's estate in Devon to manage a trailer park on the Isle of Wight, ponders the death of his brother recently killed in combat in Iraq.' --Financial Times Life & Arts Books of the Year

`The best novel I've read this year, inexplicably absent from prize lists, is Graham Swift's Wish You Were Here, a haunting depiction of one man's relationship with the land of his fathers and his long-lost family...It's not only beautifully written but profound and deeply touching.' --Rosemary Goring, The Herald

`Graham Swift's Wish You Were Here is that rare thing: a novel that articulates the thought processes and language of the working classes without condescension or caricature. The slowly unfolding tragedy...is mesmerizing and deeply melancholy, opening out into a `condition of England' parable that remains unsettling long after you've finished the book.' --Chris Moss's Novel of the Year, Time Out

From the Back Cover

On an autumn day in 2006, on the Isle of Wight, Jack Luxton, former Devon farmer and now the proprietor of a seaside caravan park, receives the news that his soldier brother Tom, not seen for years, has been killed in Iraq. For Jack and his wife Ellie this will have a potentially catastrophic impact. For Jack in particular it means a crucial journey—to receive his brother’s remains, but also into his own most secret, troubling memories and into the land of his and Ellie’s past. Wish You Were Here is both a gripping account of things that touch and test our human core and a resonant novel about a changing England. Rich with a sense of the intimate and the local, it is also, inescapably, about a wider, afflicted world. Moving towards an almost unbearably tense climax, it allows us to feel the stuff of headlines—the return of a dead soldier from a foreign war—as heart-wrenching personal truth. Praise for Graham Swift’s previous work ‘Perfectly controlled, superbly written. Waterland is original, compelling and narration of the highest order’ Guardian ‘This beautifully balanced novel describes the arrangements, accommodations, pacts and treaties of our ordinary lives’ The Times ‘Last Orders confirms his reputation as one of the great contemporary chroniclers of landscape and memory’ Observer ‘Not a book the reader is likely to forget, Out of this World deserves to be ranked at the forefront of contemporary literature’ New York Times Book Review ‘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’ TLS ‘Swift’s essays display the same quiet intensity as his fiction, a capacity for subtle storytelling with dark emotional undercurrents’ Financial Times ‘An immensely readable volume. On every page, Swift emerges as a considerable essayist, who upholds the sterling virtue of good writing combined with emotional and intellectual engagement’ Evening Standard

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving and effective 26 May 2011
By Ripple TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Combining the problems faced in the farming community in recent years and the Iraq war, I found this to be a stunning piece of writing. Often heart-wrenching, but also gripping, I found it a moving tale. Sure, it's not the cheeriest of reads this summer, but I was genuinely moved.

When we first meet former Devon farmer, Jack Luxton, on a caravan park on the Isle of Wight it's pretty clear that he and his wife, Ellie have had a pretty big problem. Subtle things like, he's sitting on his bed with a loaded shotgun behind him and she's cowering in the car in a lay-by sheltering from the torrential rain, kind of give you that impression. But what exactly has transpired you'll have to wait until near the end to find out and what happens next is only revealed in the final gripping pages. In the meantime, we get their past stories, their families' stories and how they came to the Isle of Wight.

Jack is a sort of Heathcliff type of character. He's the strong, silent type and to be fair, if only he and Ellie had talked a bit more about stuff along the way, things might have been a bit different for them both. Both have been through a fair bit, and Jack in particular has had an eventful few years to put it mildly. Then again, we wouldn't have had this book otherwise, would we?

It's not a cheery read by any stretch of the imagination. Swift makes frequent hinted suggestions to things (for example cows were killed as a preventative measure in the mad-cow outbreak, not because they were sick, while one of the arguments for the Iraq war was effectively a preventative measure) but these are never rammed home - they just float around the reader's mind. It's so much more satisfying when the reader has to so some work!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The power of dreams and memories 19 Nov 2012
Format:Paperback
The title echoes the feelings of anti-hero Jack about key persons in his life. He first wrote "Wish you were here" as a 13-year old on a picture postcard to his lifelong girlfriend Ellie from the neighboring farm, when his beloved mother took him and kid brother Tom (5) on a beach-side holiday. It has a thrilling, scary ending and is full of drama.
In the 1990s, two adjoining, struggling Devon dairy-farms were hit by BSE, years later by foot-and-mouth disease. Twice, herds of perfectly healthy cows were destroyed; compensation was scant and came late. Cancer, suicide and desertion (Tom at age 18) reduce ownership of the farms to Ellie and Jack. They sell, pay off debts and move to the Isle of Wight to run a camp site with 32 caravans. Things go well for a decade. In winter they holiday in the Caribbean.
Then a letter arrives from the DoD: Tom has died at age 31, killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. His repatriation to an air force base and funeral and burial in Ellie and Jack's Devon home village cause a rift between them. A rift based on a single remark... This book is to be discovered, so this reader signs off here.
This enthralling novel deals intimately with broad concepts like security, resilience and the essence of love and death. Resilience is the domain of Ellie. Security covers many scenes and aspects in this brilliant novel, ranging from what Tom was doing to the occasional shivers of the wife of the new owner of Jack's former, thoroughly restored and electronically-secured farmhouse. Dealing with death is a private matter: both Ellie and Jack dissemble after Tom's death, and appear to lose it...

Great novel for reading groups.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tense and moving 28 Oct 2012
By Jeremy Walton TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
I've greatly enjoyed the other Graham Swift novels I've read - beginning with the classic Waterland, through the elegaic Last Orders and the (in my opinion) even more remarkable The Light of Day. He's a master craftsman as a writer, weaving a story with great skill from a few simple words that bury feelings under the surface like emotional depth-charges. His plots aren't light-hearted but heartfelt and, whilst some might find them depressing, I've felt a strong resonance in his books.

Like this one. Jack and Tom grow up on a Devon cattle farm that is devastated by disease in the nineties; Tom leaves to be a soldier in Iraq, and Jack stays on with his irascible, disappointed father (and Ellie, daughter of the neighbouring farmer). What happens to the soldier, the farm, the father, and to Jack and Ellie is played out in this delicately-written novel. The author cycles through the characters' viewpoints and chops up the timeline so events get revisited in flashback, and connected with other events at other times. Once again, it's reasonably obvious from the outline that it's not necessarily going to be a happy story, but I found it a richly rewarding and emotional one that was worth staying with right up to the skillfully managed and suspenseful climax.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
(4.5 stars) In this novel about the many aspects of death, Booker Prize winner Graham Swift offers no humor to leaven the heavy mood or the profound sadness which the novel evokes. In addition, his main character and many peripheral characters are inarticulate people who think in clichés and deal with the everyday challenges of their lives in "tried and true" fashion. These characters have few, if any, thoughts about the larger world, or even a recognition of how they might differ, in the grand scheme of life, from the animals on their farm.

Still, Swift creates a stunning novel which inspires the reader's empathy, and the novel becomes, ultimately, a study of how an unreflective everyman handles the disasters that fate and time deal out to him, and over which he believes he has no control. The novel opens in a caravan park owned by Jack and Ellie Luxton on the Isle of Wight where thirty-nine-year-old Jack, the only remaining member of his family, has just received a letter from the military saying that his younger brother Tom has died in Iraq. Jack's family has never been open with their feelings, and as the author's focus swirls backward, forward, and around again from Jack and Tom's childhood to the present, Swift depicts the family's long history and their values. They have owned their land in Devon since 1614, but after two epidemics - most recently, mad cow disease - they have lost their entire healthy herd, sacrificed to protect the nation as a whole. Jack and his wife have sold the farm and moved to the caravan park which they now own. When Jack goes alone to the mainland to receive Tom's "repatriated" remains and oversee the burial in Marleston, the Devon town where Jack and Tom grew up, he reacts powerfully (and uncharacteristically) to the events.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wish You Were Here
A great read. The usual Swift quality and a book I couldn't put down - Wish you were reading it
Published 6 days ago by Headintheclouds
4.0 out of 5 stars this was a gift
This was a birthday gift to my mother so I can't really rate it, but my Mum said she enjoyed it thoroughly
Published 4 months ago by Celine
5.0 out of 5 stars SLOW START EXCELLENT MIDDLE AND END
It took me some time to get into this book. Thought I would not like it, in spite of enjoying other Graham Swift offerings, but once I got into to it I found it an excellent book,... Read more
Published 8 months ago by bibliophile
3.0 out of 5 stars Too slow
I have enjoyed other Graham Swify novels but this did not compare. I found it slow and never really felt I got to know the characters....disappointing.
Published 10 months ago by Missy Moo
3.0 out of 5 stars Pointless?
I couldn't get into this book for a long time. I was not convinced by the characters or by the drama. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Emmanuelle Tulle
3.0 out of 5 stars Too rambling for me
This was my first Graham Swift book and I am unsure whether too try another one. I found his style slow to read at first but then began to enjoy it. Read more
Published 16 months ago by oldgrayfan
3.0 out of 5 stars All Englands Ills
Poor Jack seems to have been afflicted by several of the disasters which affected England in the last 30 years and could be seen as a bit of a representation of the state of the... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Anne
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I can appreciate this book - the atmosphere is impressive, the characters seem real if a little stereotypical. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Mr. G. C. Stone
5.0 out of 5 stars Swift Was Laying Down Roadside Bombs for His Readers All Along
"Wish You Were Here" is the latest release from British author Graham Swift, a frequent prize-winner who has given us eight previous novels, a collection of short stories, and a... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Stephanie De Pue
5.0 out of 5 stars grim but powerful
This novel certainly wouldn't win any prizes for cheerfulness: mad cow disease grips the country side, sharing the headlines with the war dead; farmers are going under and bankers... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Kentish Woman
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