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Ever After
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 24 April 2012
Ever After is a rumination on death, faith, and finding meaning in life more than a proper novel. The narrator, Bill Unwin, is recovering from a failed suicide. His convalescence is used to muse over the fate of the father he never knew, and who may not even have been his father, and the ravings of his hedonistic mother over the vanity of posterity. Meanwhile, he is withholding the manuscript of one of his Victorian ancestors from a fellow Cambridge don, a vain, publicity-seeking but successful rival. This is finally the motive for a second, parallel plot, in many ways the more interesting, about the Victorian in forebear in question, Matthew Pearce. For Pearce, surveyor, amateur fossil-collector, and son-in-law to the local parson, is a man of his age, scientifically inclined yet religious. Lyell, Darwin cannot fail to attract Pearce, yet they also threaten his marriage and family, his very social standing.

'To be or not to be' is the book's starting point, and indeed Graham makes the parallels explicit. Unwin, for example, suspects his step-father of having been the cause of his father's suicide. The problem is that Ever After functions poorly as a novel. The hero, to start with, is lacking in attractive features. Oh-so-very-British self-deprecation is admirable, but it is hardly a heart-winner on its own, especially without much humour. But the main issue is that the narrative style is too derivative. It only ever offers a thirty-thousand feet view of its characters, failing to bring them to life. This novel is very much second best to Last Orders, and it is a quickly forgotten piece.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 July 2012
Graham Swift's 1992 novel Ever After is an ever-changing and fantastic tale, full of brilliantly inventive prose and truly epic in the scale of its ambitions. However, for me, this is its major flaw - it is simply too ambitious. The subject matter it attempts to encompass really is quite mind-boggling - from the 19th century debate of Darwinism vs religious belief through to the vagaries of 20th century art, theatre, literature and academia. Swift extends himself (and his potential readers' staying power) still further by placing at the heart of his novel the inter-linked stories of Bill Unwin, an aspiring university don with a (very) troubled family history, with that of (150 years earlier) devout believer Matthew Pearce, whose religious faith is shattered following his discovery of a dinosaur fossil - whose history Unwin is pursuing via a series of journals kept by Pearce.

For me, Ever After, is attempting to do too many things at once (although the fact that Swift is able - or at least, attempts - to cover such ground in less than 300 pages is, of itself, a remarkable feat). Unwin's story of thwarted ambition, as a result of which he finds himself managing the acting career of his wife Ruth, together with his troubled parental relationships are, for me, the most compelling strand of Swift's story. The layering on top of this of Pearce's backstory and, in particular, its real relevance to Unwin's state of mind is less clear, and therefore a less compelling read. What is, however, undeniable is the wit and inventiveness of Swift's writing - this builds further on that of his earlier masterpiece Waterland, and whilst Ever After does not work, for me, anything like as effectively as the earlier work, it is nevertheless well worth reading and merits its place in the body of work produced by one of the most inventive British novelists of the last 30 years.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2001
As with Waterland, Graham's Swift's main accomplishment here is to stealthy wind the past into emotion and storyline. The airtight plot is both fascinating and extremely well written - it is a self-consciously beautiful piece of writing about love and death, but in the end it is a life-affirming peice of work. It may not equal Swift's outstanding acheivment Waterland, but it follows the same lines and at times is more pounding and emotional than the latter would ever be.
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