Top critical review
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A mixed bag
on 7 May 2009
I found Graham Swift's recently published collection of essays and poetry an interesting but rather light read. It reminded me of some of Paul Auster's essay collections, but it lacks a focus: Auster's essays all seem to pull together in the same direction towards a unifying theme, whereas these seem to have been almost randomly pulled together without direction.
The recollections and interviews are of varying degrees of interest to me - his memories of his father were very touching, and the details invoked struck a chord; small, personal touches that stayed with the writer in the strange way that they tend to.
The interviews seemed to me to be a bit less worthwhile of inclusion, and of interest only to the die-hard completists and fans of those being interviewed.
I've heard Graham on the radio from time to time, and he has a gentle - almost self-effacing - way of speaking his mind. Most of what he says I find myself agreeing with, whilst at the same time not being particularly excited by the actual content, and the same applies to this book - he writes a lot of sense, and the reader is afforded an insight into his inner goings-on, but I finished the book having bypassed two or three pieces which I found simply of too little consequence to finish - if this book was a stew, I'd be slightly irritated by the lack of tasty bits of meat in it - there's too much here that seems to be straight out of the trunk.
Having said that, I enjoyed his only piece of reportage very much, as he recounts his adventures trying to locate the Czech writer Jiri Wolf in 1989 - a vivid and strangely uplifting account that combines menace and chaos in just the right way to really pinpoint what it was like over there then.
Sometimes his eye for detail reveals little gems of truth in the most unlikely places. His voice comes through in these pieces, and taken as a whole, I enjoyed the book with a few reservation involved: If I had finished it feeling like I had really learned something I would have given it 4 stars (I ordered this book thinking that it would have more essays about the process of writing than it did), but I didn't feel like that, unfortunately for me... So 3 will have to do.