Graham Swift was born in London in 1948, attended Cambridge and then York University. He made his reputation with Waterland, a novel set in the fen country around Cambridge. He made Granta’s first list of Best British young novelists. His success seemed to have dimmed somewhat till the 1996 publication of Last Orders, which won The Booker Prize.
Swift can be said to be a quintessentially English writer, writing about English subjects and English themes. The events of his novels – even when they include such novelistic stand-bys as murder, adultery and incest – are treated with decorum, in true British fashion. On the surface, everything may seem smooth and normal but, underneath, it is not. His characters, as good Brits, generally do not like to make a fuss. They do not, to use an Americanism, let it all hang out.
The past is clearly important for Swift and his characters and they ignore it at their peril. Right at the beginning of The Sweet-Shop Owner, Willy imagines that”he would be history”. For Willy and for many of the characters of Swift’s novels, the past comes back to haunt them.
Technically, Swift does not break new ground. His novels are conventionally plotted and conventionally written. Even Last Orders, with its Faulkner borrowing and its use of different narrative viewpoints, poses no technical demands on the reader. Even the mingling of past and present is done almost unobtrusively. Indeed, if you had to look for literary relatives, Dickens would spring to mind as much as Faulkner and some of his modern peers. And that means he is accessible to everyone.
Graham Swift (1949-)
‘How did I end up becoming a novelist?’
1980 The Sweet-Shop Owner
1982 Learning to Swim and Other Stories
1985 Magic Wheel: An Anthology of Fishing in Literature (edited, with David Profumo)
1988 Out of this World
1991 Ever After
1996 Last Orders
2003 The Light of Day
2009 Making an Elephant: Writing from Within (memoir)
2011 Wish You Were Here
2014 England and Other Stories
2016 Mothering Sunday
2020 Here We Are