Monday 1 September 2008

A labourious read

Is "The Haruki Murakami Syndrome" on the verge of being rebranded as "The Graham Swift Syndrome"? It may be apropos to rename this pernicious literary disease in this way, though I'll have to read at least one more recent-ish novel of Swift's (that being Tomorrow, published 2007) to be sure. Also, given that Murakami is more wildly popular than Swift, this potential new title won't have quite the same bite. But we'll see: if the name has to be changed to apply to Swift, it just has to be changed.

It's a long time since I've read any of Swift's novels, but Waterland is in my top ten all time favourites and Last Orders got me addicted to Swift in the first place. I think it was not unreasonable of me to really look forward to The Light of Day.

Published in 2003, The Light of Day was his first new publication after Last Orders for which he won the 1996 Booker. That's a long time to write some serious shite, if you ask me. Not that The Light of Day was complete shite, really - it's just that it went on for way too long and was painfully repetitive (a difficult and embarrassing feat, I think, in a book that's only just over 300 pages and has chapters that are between 2 and 10 pages).

Someone (i.e., Swift's editor, dammit!) should have told him either to wrap it up much earlier or to give this tale significantly more substance. It takes place during one day with ex-policeman turned P.I. George Webb going to visit the woman (Sarah Nash) he's fallen in love with (who happens also to be a convicted murderer). There are lots of flashbacks, both to George's earlier life and to his involvement in Sarah's disintegrating marriage (which George was employed to document as Sarah's husband engaged in a doomed affair with a younger woman). Really, this required only 200 pages to tell well; the remaining 100 were simply bland and increasingly irritating repetitions of what had already been revealed, examined, and obsessed over.

I think I'm going to have to read something hilarious and/or silly next to help me get over my irritation and minor sadness about Swift falling into the "too famous to edit" trap.


Rohan Maitzen said...

I've had Waterland on my 'to read' list for a long time; your post reminds me to go find it--but I think I'll give this recent one a pass, then.

Bookphilia said...

Waterland is pretty wonderful, as I recall - it was written back before Swift became too (metaphorically) sleek and fat with success. I'll be interested to know what you think of it.