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on 28 January 2016
Tomorrow by Graham Swift is a wonderful novel. It is so good, so perfectly conceived and realised that it could never be filmed. I can only exist as a novel. Throughout it promises to become something truly momentous. But this is an end it never actually achieves, at least as far as then plot is concerned; never achieved, that is, until after finishing the book the reader realises that these are truly the momentous things of life. By the end, the reader may initially be disappointed that the apparently momentous revelation planned for tomorrow seems rather less than earth shattering. But then, we realise that the world has indeed been turned on its head, and on reflection events are certainly more profound than first sight suggests.

The novel’s form is perhaps its most stunning aspect. We find ourselves inside the mind of Paula, as she lays awake in bed beside her sleeping husband, Mike. He is fifty and she is forty-nine. They have had a good life together and are still very much in love. They have been married since their early twenties, having met aged nineteen when Mike did the rounds of three college flatmates. Paula was third in line, but Mike adhered, and, it seems, they never looked back.

But they did. They found they had to.

Paula and Mike have two wonderful children, Nick and Kate, who are twins, apparently. The children are just about to celebrate their sixteenth birthday, so it should be obvious that the couple waited several years before they started their family. What happened in the intervening years is important to the plot of Tomorrow.

It is the nature of this wait and its associated traumas that forms the backbone of the revelations the couple feel they have to share with Nick and Kate come the dawning of their sixteenth birthday, the following morning. Hence Paula lies awake, thinking. This is why she is turning the whole business, alongside all the events of her and her husband’s own childhoods over in her mind. And this is why we have this text in the form of a novel, Graham Swift’s Tomorrow.

This is a novel about families. It is also a novel about love, about commitment, about devotion and about dedication. It examines the nature of loyalty and trust. The entire gamut of emotions in the context of the family flow past the reader in the form of a narrative that spans generations and lives. It sends some of the participants off to war and sometimes brings them back, albeit to changed lives. But what it does do throughout is present a rich and three-dimensional portrayal of people who feel entirely real. They do not become credible, as such, because their credibility is never in question. They merely seem to exist on the page, exist in some real, though entirely imagined, world. Now if that’s not subtle, I don’t know what is.

Tomorrow is not a sugar-sweet picture of familial bliss. Neither is it laden with tragedy, abuse or horror. These are real families, with familial-scale issues that need to acknowledged and lived with. It will be obvious already that Tomorrow is a novel that would be easy to spoil with revelations about the nature of its plot, so it is impossible in a review to go further than to state that even the happiest of families has its skeletons unsafely locked away in its not really private, or even closed, cupboards. Tomorrow is about the way that families survive, nurtured by the love that binds them together, despite the stack of reasons why it might be withheld.

There have been incidents in the children’s lives that have cause heartache. There was a swim on a beach that almost ended in tragedy. There have been arguments and crises, but none of them is the meat of the book, whose eventual and significant achievement is to render this family utterly real, to take the reader through revelations that might not shock, but will certainly generate empathy, and then eventually to leave us with the realisation that these people are merely living their lives. And this is the real source and focus of our interest.
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on 24 July 2013
I will concur that "Tomorrow", while typical of Graham Swift's themes, is far from being the novelist at his best, as in the masterpiece "Waterland", for example.

Swift's most general theme is the past : the influence the past has on the present, the way decisions or events from the past are sometimes misunderstood, even deliberately misrepresented, and the way such misunderstandings or misrepresentations may also influence present situations, particularly within families.

Part of the failure of "Tomorrow" is quite simple to pinpoint, I feel: the narrator, Paula, lying awake at night, is going over in her mind the revelations to be made, by herself and her husband, Mike, to their teenaged twins the following day. But, of course, Paula is speaking simultaneously to both her twins (who, of course, have already known their mother for sixteen years) and the reader, who gets to know her and everything about her through the text. And it's perhaps difficult to speak to a reader and to one's own children in the same way.

The major revelation to be made to the kids, as many reviewers pointed out, is not exactly earth-shattering. The novel's shortcoming is that the reader focuses on the nature of the revelation, and then, once it has been made, realises that not much else has been said - and consequently feels rather cheated.

What saves the novel from being really banal, however, is that there are in fact two revelations, which are closely linked - and Paula's husband is party, so far, to only one of them. That being the case, will both revelations be made to the children? If so, Mike is in for a shock as well as the kids. If not, then how reliable a narrator is Paula in the first place?

I have Graham Swift's most recent novel, "Wish You Were Here", to look forward to. I'm sincerely hoping it's a bit more adventurous, and meatier, than "Tomorrow", which has to be considered a relative failure by a writer who, at his very best ("Waterland" again), is undoubtedly one of Britain's finest contemporary writers.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 May 2008
The tone is unmistakeably Graham Swiftian: the monologues - the looking back from a given moment to the past - a secret to be in due course revealed - the odd tangential idea in brackets - lots of questions inside the monologue - musings about biological processes in the human and the animal world - a feeling for landscape. I have loved all those features in Swift's earlier novels, but I have to say, it took longer in this novel than in the previous ones for me to feel involved. The first half of the book, as far as plot and tension are concerned, falls, in my view, a good deal short of his previous work.

Paula has twin children, Kate and Nick, now aged sixteen. She loves them dearly, just as she does her husband Michael. She lies awake during the night, tensed up about what would happen tomorrow; for tomorrow Michael would tell the children something they did not know, something Michael and Paula had decided years ago the children would be told once they had reached the age of sixteen, something that might change their lives for ever, though Paula hopes that they will be resilient enough to cope, because, after all, in 1995 the modern young are `cooler' and more mature than their parents were at that age in the early 1960s. And they do have each other, in that special way that twins have.

In her long internal monologue that night, Paula does not get to the first revelation until page 152, and I have to say that only a relatively small part of what she says about her life and that of Michael before the children were born is relevant to that revelation. We learn quite a bit about Paula's and Michael's parents and about their careers, which is easy enough reading and has some sociological interest also; but, when reconsidered after I had read the book, it seemed like padding out, something that wasn't going anywhere in particular - a suspicion I had even when I was reading it at the time. Also, quite some time before page 152 I had some idea of what the revelation might be; and when it came, it did not seem all that shattering - although, as we get a picture of the kind of person Paula was (and the way Graham Swift empathizes with her as a woman is one of the strengths of the novel), one can understand that it had haunted her life.

But I found the ninety-odd pages of the monologue that followed the first revelation very much more interesting, more subtle, and more relevant to the situation than the part that preceded it - indeed so magnificent (and in one passage so powerful and moving) that, for all the weaker first part, I have to give the book five stars.
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on 19 March 2008
In Tomorrow, Graham Swift's novel published in 2007, he employs the same technique he used in Light of Day. Light of Day involved a detective mulling, over the course of a single day, over past events and piecing the fragments together to form a cohesive and striking story.

In Tomorrow, the person doing the thinking is Paula Hook, art dealer, ex 60s' chick and mother of sixteen year-old twins. Only it's more like pontification than thinking. Paula is awake through the night and dreading the next day when her husband Mike, a biologist who gave up studying snails to work on and eventually edit a popular science magazine, is going to confess something shocking to the twins; something that will change their lives forever. But a premise like this where the narrator is building up to a shocking revelation is dependent on delaying relating the crucial event for as long as possible. This can lead to a book built on a somewhat flimsy notion where the reader is grinding their teeth with impatience for the narrator to spit it out. And it also requires the confession to be truly awful or mind boggling when it's eventually revealed.

The fact that when Paula does eventually spit it out the event in question is not hugely rare or shocking leads to a feeling of anti-climax after so much build up . There is also something dislikable about Paula. If she is indeed pondering in the way she would talk to her children, she is obviously a self-indulgent and selfish person, burdening the story with cringeably intimate details that would only embarrass a child and serve no purpose whatsoever. For instance, is it essential to this confession to keep referring to the fact that her and her husband were always at it like rabbits on Viagra? It smacks of thoughtless egotism and, far from being crucial to the story, would only add to the twins' trauma. Noone likes to think of their parents making the beast with two backs - why shove this onto the twins' a;ready full plates? There is also something of Anne Enright's narrator in her Booker-winning The Gathering about Paula - the world centres around her.

But perhaps Paula is not articulating her thoughts in the way that she hopes Mike will the next day; perhaps her thoughts are the uncensored, unashamedly egocentric version. In which case the premise of the book is shaken - we are sold the story as a mother's shivery anticipation of the true story her children will be told the next day, and the narration is consistently done in a way that addresses Paula's children.

The idea might have made a gripping short story or perhaps even novelette, but it's way too paper thin to form the backbone of a novel. Paula's irritating style of narration is exacerbated by her constant side tracking to irrelevant details; she refers to the rain pounding down many times and even jumps from a key point to refer to the weather on individual days twenty years before. Who cares? Obviously it would add to the atmosphere if this were a straight novel written contemporaneously, but when the reader is told on page one that a life-changing confession is about to be related, they don't have much patience for witterings about the weather decades before.

This is a great shame because Graham Swift is a writer of many talents. His prose is usually precise and incisive. Last Orders, Waterland and Light of Day were novels with the power to sweep the reader up and transport them, even though Waterland did take a chance with its many diversions to geographical facts about the Fens, and even though Light of Day relied on the memories of one character in a single day.

Here though, in the hands of a middle-aged non literary mother, Swift softens his style so that puns abound and the subject constantly jumps from one time and place to another. The fact that Paula weakly apologizes for her puns and darting about from inconsequential detail to blush-inducing TMI didn't stop me silently grinding my teeth and willing her to get on with it. It's not a bad book by any means - a talented writer like Swift will always have the ability to include mesmerising fragments, even when a concept is flawed. There are still chunks of this book that are gripping and lucidly written, but Paula's overbearing presence is like a shadow over the pages.
Not his best. ***00 1/2
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on 28 October 2007
A middle-aged woman narrates this deeply reflective novel as she lies in bed by her husband one rainy and stormy night, restlessly writing a eulogy to her two teenage children about her life and her marriage. It's almost midsummer 1995 and it's a week past Kate and Nick's sixteenth birthday. There's a secret about her family that Paula Hook is propelled to address and in the next morning her husband, Mike will also reveal to Nick and Kate his own version of the dramatic denouement that provides the climax to their lives so far.

Paula's story begins in 1966 when she is only twenty and where she meets Michael while studying at Sussex University near Brighton. On the cusp of the sexual revolution, college life has become rife with possibilities, the birth control pill has just become available to young women and Brighton is considered to be the best and perhaps the coolest place to be.

The choices that are available to a girl like Paula would have been incomprehensible to her parents and the excitement of the new, "the liberated as we sometimes called it," especially attracts Mike. Paula delicately reveals that Mike slept around, sleeping with two her friends in possibly quick succession, and then eventually hooking up with her. In fact, he got into bed with her one night in Brighton nearly thirty years ago and though the place, the room, and even the bed have changed from time to time, Mike has managed to stay with Paula ever since.

Paula was overwhelmed by the fact that Mike's father sent his son twelve bottles of champagne to celebrate their love. A sudden bounty, the champagne comes to symbolize, in a decidedly impetuous and breathless way, the couple's eventual betrothal, even though they didn't actually get married for another four years. Of course, being children of the freewheeling 60's, both Mike and Paula were obliged to scoff at the very idea of marriage.

As the narrative unfolds, Paula begins to reveal ever more about her life with Mike as she thinks back to those early days in the 1970's where Mike began his research on snails, a supposed stepping stone to his brilliant future in science, and where she began a career as a trainee art dealer at Christie's auction house. Without doubt, theirs is one of a positive and upwardly mobile life, that of a steadily married couple in their thirties living in their terraced house in the picaresque London suburb of Herne Hill

Bounded at night by her recollections in this bedroom, in the dark, with the rain smattering away outside, this world for Paula feels like some sort of temporary refuge. She tells her children of life and how short it is, that they should "seize it, treasure it and cradle it," and also of Mike's father who was forced to fly off to his highly possible death in the 2nd World War, even as Paula's own father had a very different war, cracking codes in the cozy depths of the English countryside, surrounded by lots of female clerks, one of which was Paula's mother.

When Paula and Mike discover they are cat people when they obtain a neighborhood cat called Otis. Paula, however, is quick to note that Otis came before, and was never intended to be a replacement for Kate and Nick, even when Otis ended up turning their lives upside down. Then along come the announcements and the reckonings, and the understandings about death, especially that of Grandma Pete when Paula cries her heart out at his funeral at Invercullen, and also of dear Uncle Edie who died when his was only fifty-seven and who gifted Mike a beautiful, leather-bound Victorian book on mollusks.

Thematically the novel is a plea to live one's life to the fullest, no matter how quick and rushing life it sometimes seem, even when can also seem to be slow and sweet and everlasting. Paula's message to her children is of the power of love, and perhaps even a strong measure of forgiveness. Obviously, Paula and Mike have learnt in the past few years, especially how hard it can be to tell what's true and what's false, what's real and what's pretend, and also the critical question of how they both came to make this profound decision which ended up altering their lives.

In languid and measured prose, author Graham Swift characterizes a loving and deeply intuitive marriage over the course of thirty years, the author ultimately infusing his tale with a type of worldly melancholy, but one that is also permeated with immense beauty, as well as the possibilities of great happiness. Paula's revelation comes about three quarters into the story, which causes the rest of the novel to become a bit tedious, save for Swift's leisurely and competent style and his astute observations about life which keep the action moving along at a nice enough pace. Mike Leonard October 07.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 September 2007
It is 1995, and Paula (Campbell) Hook is lying awake in bed on the eve of a dramatic announcement which she and her husband Mike will make to their sixteen-year-old twins. They have delayed this life-changing occasion for several years, having decided to wait until after the twins, Nick and Kate, have celebrated their sixteenth birthday, fearful that they might be "wrenching [them] forever from [their] childhood." In the course of the night, Paula reminisces about her past, her thirty-year relationship with Mike, her wedding, the marriages of their parents and their parents' histories, the deaths of family members, the childhoods of the twins, and the concept of love across three generations.

Throughout the novel, Paula contrasts her present family life with the lives of her parents and Mike's parents, showing how each person's expectations for the future grow out of his/her upbringing, relationships with those who love them, and the historical period in which they happen to be living. Paula's meditations are conversational and very intimate, sometimes revolving around the sexual freedom she and Mike experienced, separately and together, in the sixties. While her personal confessions may be more than she ever actually plans to discuss with the twins (and it is certainly more than the twins need to know), they do add to the developing themes for the reader, preparing him/her for the announcement which is the crux of the novel.

Swift deliberately ignores two of the canons of fiction writing in order to relate Paula's story. First of all, he writes (surprisingly effectively) as a woman--sharing all a woman's intimacies, points of view, and attitudes. Because the entire novel is an interior monologue, however, he ends up telling about the action, instead of recreating it in lively scenes. This almost works, since Paula is a character who reveals every thought, every emotion, and every aspect of her life to the reader, no matter how personal, but this also makes some of her monologue feel unnatural and the "telling about" of the events somewhat tedious.

The reader discovers the nature of the dramatic announcement with one hundred pages left in the novel, and while it may be difficult for the family to deal with, it is not a unique situation, nor is it something that will necessarily change life for the family as much as Paula thinks it will. As a result, the remainder of the novel feels anticlimactic, and it ends as it begins, with Paula still the only one awake. Graham Swift takes a lot of chances with structure in this novel, and he almost succeeds. The novel has many fine qualities, but its revelations ultimately seem contrived, instead of inevitable. Mary Whipple
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on 15 April 2007
On a wet summer night in 1995 Paula Hook lies awake. Her husband, Mike, is asleep by her side, sleeping "on the eve of his execution." Her sixteen year old twins are in their bedrooms, completely unaware of what awaits them tomorrow. So while "everything's quiet, the house is still", Paula recalls the course of her fifty year life, attempting to fully explain the background to what Mike will tell their children tomorrow. Tomorrow. They have been avoiding this for sixteen years but now the time has come and the truth must be told. Tomorrow will transform their family forever.

The story that unfolds as night turns to dawn is both a solemn promise of love to her husband, and a requiem to the pretence of happy families. It is a study of identity, an insight into a woman who is at once an individual, a wife and a mother. Although narrated to address her children, it is a story they probably don't want to hear, the story of their mother as a human being, of her twenty-five year marriage and of her life before the children were born. Paula is telling the story of parenthood: from youth and desperate longing to unbridled joy and the experience of unequivocal ingratitude.

The atmosphere is authentic, reading it you can feel Paula's emotions and it is a delight to meet such a rounded and quietly likable character. Her vocabulary and language is bland and unremarkable but somehow Graham Swift manages to make is sound unobtrusively and naturally poignant. Many authors speak with the same voice in each novel but Swift has always had an aptitude for tailoring his prose to the nature of his characters. This is most apparent in `Last Orders' and `Waterland' and although this book is not as good as they were, it is apparent here. Delightful wordplay litters the story with subtle and not so subtle illusions which offer a lighter break in the narrative. There is much to relate `Tomorrow' to Swift's last offering, `The Light of Day'. "To love is to be ready to lose, it's not to have, to keep." This could easily be the epitaph to `Tomorrow'.

What did annoy me was the unnecessary mystery. It is not until almost 150 pages that you reach the phrase: `this is where your story really begins.' This is not a problem in itself. I for one love novels which are written to address a real character, not the reader. There is something much more honest about characters who speak as though some things in their life are too well known to mention. Family folklore is not overly explained, the reader is left to decipher the family on their own. However, while this is great for the general style of the novel, it falls down over the event that is at its heart. Tomorrow's event which Paula has been worrying about turns out to be a huge let-down. Sure it is a revelation which will take some getting used to, but in this day and age it is hardly unusual. Talk about making a drama out of a crisis.

The result is that when you turn over the last page you are left feeling oddly unsatisfied. Reading `Tomorrow' is like being forced to watch a home movie. There are all the bits where someone says "ooh, watch here, this bit is so funny," and you sit there scratching your head. But then you go away from it feeling glad you watched, as though the voyeuristic insight into another family has taught you something about your own.

The inner workings of a family is tricky ground and absorbing when done well. To a large extent Graham Swift succeeds in telling an enjoyable story about quietly believable characters. There is something silently real here. It is a book that many people are going to love and relate to. It is just a shame that the revelation it is centred around is so ultimately disappointing.
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on 6 September 2011
Graham Swift's novel is a transcription of the thoughts of Paula, awake in bed one night whilst her husband Mike sleeps on soundly beside her. They are happily married, lovingly so, with twins, now sixteen years old, asleep in their own beds. The reason Paula lies awake and runs through her life so far is because they have a secret, she and Mike, one which they have kept from the twins these sixteen years, one which Paula believes will be life-changing when revealed and which they, or to be precise Mike, will come clean about tomorrow. I just hope Mike doesn't take two hundred and fifty pages doing it.

Paula's life is unique inasumch as all our lives are and that's it, it isn't remarkable in the slightest and nothing about it merits this novel. So everything hangs on Swift's telling of it. Written in the first person as a sort of formal thought-recording process, it is gentle, rarely amusing, and often stilted, as Paula's frequent use of the phrase "your Dad" comes across as cringingly impersonal. Swift gives himself nothing to build on other than the much-heralded secret, not Paula's character, although that comes through a little, not her achievements or failures, though there is much to be said for a successful relationship and family life, and whilst Paula may be awake thinking about the possible impact of Mike's revelation, Mike hardly seems concerned as he is well into a good night's sleep. Which is where I kept ending up after every few pages.

Thanks to Macbeth for my title to this review, it sums up how I felt reading Tomorrow.
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on 12 September 2017
Having read the excellent Mothering Sunday by Swift, I found this novel just about okay.

It centres around a single night where a mother is talking through her decision to make an important announcement to her teenage children the following morning.

This revelation she feels will ‘devastate” their lives and so it causes her to reflect on the life she and her family have had. What follows is an almost cathartic release of reasoning and explanations, recriminations and honest appraisal and analysis. That’s basically it really.

I wasn’t blown away by the prose or reminiscences and just felt it quite a weak theme that needed something to raise it above just a narrative of reflection as the big reveal wasn’t as shocking as the synopsis made out. The prose was nicely written but it just lacked that something special to raise it above anything more than an average read.
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on 21 May 2014
Like so many other reviewers I think Graham Swift is an excellent writer, but this book, rather than highlighting his strengths just seems to bring out the negative side of his writing. Uninteresting characters. Poor plot. Rambling. Self-indulgent. It has similarities to In the Light of Day, which, though far better than Tomorrow, shares similar defects. The idea of knowing what's going to happen long before it actually happens can sometimes work but here it doesn't. I also find it annoying that the reader has to decide for himself what will happen after the book ends. I know it's an interesting technique and of course it's the sign of a great novel when we're left wondering and speculating on "tomorrow" but here we've had to put up with a whole book full of disjointed ramblings of an unsympathetic character and when it would be possibly interesting to know how the husband and children might react to the "revelation", the book ends. Swift fan(atic)s will argue this is great writing - I felt it summed up the book, sloppily written and a bit of a cop-out.
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