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Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here - Graham Swift Book of LamentationAs part of his investigations into the properties of light, Isaac Newton poked around behind his own eyeball with a bodkin. In this novel, Graham Swift undertakes an equally painful investigation of the darkness that lies behind the demise of a traditional farming family.Jack Luxton and his wife Ellie run the Lookout Caravan Park on the Isle of Wight, when one November - and in this book it is always November - Jack is notified of the death of his younger brother Tom, a soldier on active service in Iraq. In his mind, Jack goes over and over the events that led to this point. Remembering their life on Jebb Farm in Devon where the Luxton family had lived for generations. The death of their mother, their cattle having to be culled because of mad cow disease, the death of the farm dog, the death of their father, the death, the death, the death. No wonder Tom left home to join the army on his eighteenth birthday.When Tom's body is repatriated, Jack attends a ceremony in which a bugler plays the reveille, and that is what this novel reminded me of: one long reveille - a griefful musical canon reverberating incessantly. Like a billiards player compiling a lengthy break from nursery cannons, Graham Swift's skill as a writer is as mesmerising as it is monotonous.Jack Luxton is a doleful character whose whole life seems to be nothing but dullness punctuated by bereavement - full of whatever the exact opposite of 'joie de vivre' is:"Death, Jack thought, looking out at brilliant exposing sunshine in Okehampton, was in many ways a great place of shelter. It was life and all its knowledge that was insupportable."Jack's father had the right idea: he blew his brains out in the middle of the book. Regrettably, I didn't have a shotgun, so I had to carry on to the (not-so-)bitter end.Jack lays a loaded shotgun on his bed in chapter one, in a transparent attempt by the author to inject some tension into the narrative, but I had little hope of it going off by the end - literary fiction of this calibre can only end with a polite anticlimax. Chekhov might not be impressed.Nevertheless, Wish You Were Here is truly well written, but be warned: reading it temporarily sucks all trace of happiness out of the world, so make sure you have plenty of chocolate to hand before opening it.