on 12 August 2014
This is an outstanding collection of short stories. Its theme is, as its title implies' 'England' or rather English people living now. Each story is sensitive and takes us into some particular crucial point in the life of someone living in England - a lawyer who has leant that his illness is incurable, a girl realising she is a lesbian, an elderly confused person whose Polish husband was killed flying for the RAF, a man protecting his child etc. None of the stories in themselves are perhaps outstanding but each shows insight and creates sympathy but the strength of the book is its cumulative effect.
While reading these 25 short stories, I was trying to place them, what did they have in common, was there a thread, what was the author's message? After finishing the last story, I realized that the only commonality was an event in the life of the person telling the story. The event is not always life shattering, but something that was and will be remembered.
For me, it was difficult to understand each story. There is rarely a beginning or an ending, we witness a place in time. Some rang true to me, in 'Mrs. Kaminski' I recognized an elderly woman being questioned by a physician. The physician was trying to place her orientation, she had fallen, she was ninety, did she have some form of dementia? Mrs. Kaminski told her, she was on her way to Poland to be with her husband and her son. Poland was a metaphor for death, not confused at all, Mrs. Kaminski wanted to be with her family, it was time. In 'Fusilli' , a father was shopping, and remembering his last conversation with his son, who was in Kelmand, Afghanistan. His son called as he was shopping for pasta, and suggested that his father always buy dried pasta not fresh, it lasted longer. He and his wife would never eat Fusilli again, but he had to purchase one more package, just to have it. These examples give you a semblance of the 25 stories. None of them humorous, all with a message. It is my hope that these stories will resonate with the English audience, because some left me confused. Is it an English thing?
The writing is superb, in fact I wanted some of the stories to continue, but alas, whatever was driving Mr.Swift had been said.
Recommended. prisrob 03-14-15
This is an interesting collection of stories – there are a couple set in the past, one in 1805 and another in an England torn by Civil War –but most have a contemporary setting. They deal mostly with situations that are quite ordinary; a man remembering the day he visited a solicitor with his new wife to make out their wills, two old school friends at the funeral of their former headmaster, a man remembering how his parents viewed a neighbour they thought was a little odd, a widowed osteopath with a young client, a man who locks himself out of his house… However, all of these initially normal situations are given a twist, to show what goes on below the surface. Whether it is a hairdresser chatting to a customer, or a man shopping for pasta in Waitrose, the author uncovers the depth of human feeling. This is a book which deals with grief, loneliness, isolation, friendship, the bonds of childhood and loss. A very good collection of short stories, which I enjoyed very much. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
on 21 July 2014
A tremendous return for Graham Swift. Last Orders is one of my all time favourites and this collection of short stories certainly did not disappoint for his return. Lovely, sad, funny,subtle, and so insightful that you feel you know these people within a paragraph or two. I loved it.
on 13 October 2014
It took me a while to get through these stories and I usually race through books. Some, particularly Fusilli, were intensely harrowing. Others, I wasn't quite sure of the intent and they seemed to drift off without any satisfactory development of the story.
A good choice for bedtime reading or to put on a kindle when you want 10 mins distraction.
on 14 November 2014
I have to confess I am not a great fan of short stories but The Moth and Margaret Atwoods latest were good enough to tempt me into trying this.
Inconsequential stories. Most with very little structure. Unsympathetic characters. Endless loose ends.. Couldn't finish it.
Sorry, not for me.
on 5 March 2016
Typically Swiftian, gently and carefully crafted; not a Waterworks or Last Orders or The Sweet shop owner but avworthy b- list addition to his impressive canon.
on 29 April 2015
The "New Yorker" and "Granta" are the only mass circulation magazines I know that regularly publish short stories and the short story is almost extinct as a literary form nowadays compared with the first half of the 20th century.
Think of people like Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, V. S. Pritchett, Saki, James Joyce, Somerset Maugham, Kathleen Mansfield, Daphne du Maurier, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, John Cheever and Raymond Carver to pick a few names from both sides of the Atlantic.
That does not mean short stories are no longer written but I cannot think of any modern author who is known primarily as a short story, apart from Ann Beattie.
Modern writers like T. C. Boyle, William Trevor, John Updike, William Boyd, Paul Theroux, V.S. Naipaul, Russell Banks, Tim Parks and Martin Amis - and probably many others - have all written short stories but they are primarily known as novelists.
I have read many of their short stories and generally been unimpressed as I feel they have not really been at home with this form. I know many people will disagree with me, particularly over Trevor and I confess I have liked some by Theroux, Naipaul and Banks.
This collection by Graham Swift is feeble indeed and comes over as a group of sketches and outlines of incidents or drafts of plots.
They often cover the same theme - middle aged or older people recalling an incident that changed their lives and how they feel about it now.
I found them monotonous and colorless and kept hoping the next one would be better than the one I had just read. Alas this was not the case.
on 4 August 2014
The voices seem so easily recognisable and easy to listen to - but the inferences resonate with you for days. Such a clever writer.
I don't usually read short stories. I find their brevity frustrating but this Graham Swift offering has been garlanded with so much praise, that it's hard to resist. Unfortunately, it proved too subtle for me. People having crises next to the fusili in the supermarket may be true to life, but it does not neccessarily make for diverting reading. I guess you need patience to find the reward with these stories and obviously I'm wrong to be disappointed, as Famous Writers have been amassed for praise on the back cover. Perhaps I'm too ordinary, hankering after thrills.