Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 1, 2017

Tomorrow, by Graham Swift

*pout* I’m not having much luck with my fiction reading at the moment.

I am spoiled for choice with non-fiction: I have started Rebe Taylor’s Into the Heart of Tasmania: A Search for Human Antiquity but then Tony Kevin’s new book Return to Moscow came into the library – and I just took a little peek at it when the traffic lights were red and kept going when I got home.  I’ve got an intriguing new bio called Lenin the Dictator: An Intimate Portrait and a beautiful National Library of Australia bio called Looking for Rose Paterson: How Family Bush Life Nurtured Banjo the Poet

But my bedtime fiction reading has been no good at all.  After the debacle of Sarah Dunant’s Transgressions (see my disappointed review)  I tried Australian poet Libby Angel’s The Trapeze Act, expecting to like it after hearing about it on Radio National’s Books and Arts program, but no, I gave it 50 pages but just couldn’t muster the interest to keep going.  Then I took up Ouyang Yu’s new novella Billy Sing – and I do like it, but relaxing bedtime reading it’s not.  I need my wits about me to read Ouyang Yu.  I really need something easy-to-read-but-interesting while I’m having trouble with my eyes, so I looked on the TBR for a tried and trusted author… and there was Graham Swift, author of books I loved: the Booker-winning Last Orders, (1996), Waterland, (1983) The Light of Day (2003), and more recently Mothering Sunday (2016) (see my review). What could go wrong?

I should have remembered my experience with Wish You Were Here (2011).  That was a dud (see my review) but it failed to alert me to the possibility that worse might be in store.  Words fail me when I try to explain how much I disliked Graham Swift’s Tomorrow: it is possibly the most exasperating book I’ve ever read.

It’s narrated by a mother lying awake at night, thinking about the secret about to be revealed to her twin children the following day.  It is narrated in the incredibly annoying second person, as she addresses these hapless children, who have just turned sixteen.  (This is how I know I bought this book sight unseen on the strength of Swift’s name (probably from a Readings’ catalogue, but I don’t blame them).  If I had set eyes on these introductory words, I would never have spent my hard-earned money on it:

You’re asleep, my angels, I assume.  So, to my amazement and relief, is your father, like a man finding it in him to sleep on the eve of his execution.  He’ll need all he can muster tomorrow.  I’m the only one awake on this night before the day that will change all our lives. Though it’s already that day: the little luminous hands on my alarm clock (which I haven’t set) show just gone one in the morning.  And the nights are short.  It’s almost midsummer, 1995.  It’s a week past your sixteenth birthday.  By a fluke that’s become something of an embarrassment and some people will say wasn’t a fluke at all, you were born in Gemini.  I’m not an especially superstitious woman.  I married a scientist.  But one little thing I’ll do tomorrow – today, I mean, but for a little while still I can keep up an illusion – is cross my fingers.  (p.1)

Are your teeth on edge already?  Mine were, and (merely from typing it) still are, and now I don’t understand why I kept on going.  A vague interest in what the earth-shattering secret might be, I suppose, (plus I was too warm and comfortable to get out of bed and choose another book).  But before long I knew that this secret wasn’t something interesting, like their father having been a Soviet spy or that she was really the offspring of an escaped Romanov and that there was a fortune awaiting them in de-Sovietised Russia.  No, clearly it was some commonplace domestic secret.  Either the parents were splitting up, or that their parentage was not what they thought it was.  Or both.  Either way, she was overdramatising it.

BEWARE SPOILERS: (sarcastic *drum roll)

Well, this woman’s ramblings took the best part of 250 pages to reveal the news.  Will I tell?  Yes I will, if only to save others. They are IVF babies (but lucky not to be the vet’s because she had a fling roundabout the crucial time).  If, appalled by the lies they’ve been fed, the twins are devastated by this news, plunging the Staysharp into their mother’s heaving breast and spurning their non-biological father for evermore, the reader will never know, because this novel is not about that.  It’s all about her.

In a monologue so tedious I am loath to note that the-obviously-not-a-coincidence-of-dates hints at a failed emulation of Molly’s stream of consciousness in Ulysses, she tells them about an assortment of relations dead and alive; about meeting their father and (more than any teenager would want to know) about all the lusty sex she had with him; about the father’s interest in snails (someone must be, I suppose) and (reading between the lines) how she and her successful gallery and her supreme court judge father are the ones i.e. not their dad, who have made their pleasant middle-class life possible.  (Yes, she is a bit spiteful, and/or also deep-down resentful and blame-shifting about his fertility problem).  There is a lot about a cat called Otis as well.

What was Swift thinking?  Was he channelling his namesake and writing a dubious satire of women’s writing about not-earth-shattering domestic issues? Could I find a review that revealed something I had missed?  No, I could not.  If you have nothing better to do than the dusting or weeding or doing the ironing, read about the critical reaction at Wikipedia

But do remember, Graham Swift is an author of significant, powerful, luminous novels (see paragraph 1).  It’s just that this is definitely not one of them.

Author: Graham Swift
Title: Tomorrow
Publisher: Picador, 2007
ISBN: 9780330450188 (hbk.)
Source: Personal library.

Availability

No.  If you won’t be warned off, you can find a copy by yourselves.

 


Responses

  1. I’ve read 2 books by Graham Swift which I have enjoyed but not loved, most recently Mothering Sunday. I have Waterland on my tbr but I don’t think I like him enough to read any more than that really.

    • I think I liked Mothering Sunday so much because it was beautifully narrated.
      He’s very English, isn’t he, in Waterland and Last Orders…. I’ve seen the film and liked that too.

  2. I would have stopped right at man writing woman’s interior monologue. Didn’t have any weeding to do so read Wikipedia as well, I enjoy adverse reviews.

    • Presumably this means you would spurn Molly Bloom’s soliloquy too?
      Surely not, IMO every bloke on earth should read that for its insights, even if they don’t read the rest of Ulysses.
      See my review to see why: https://anzlitlovers.com/2010/06/16/ulysses-by-james-joyce-disordered-thoughts-of-an-amateur-18/

      • Ok, you got me there! I even had bits of Molly Bloom memorised 15 or 20 years ago. But just because it’s beautifully written doesn’t mean it provides any insight into women’s thinking, don’t you think? As you are no doubt aware I am becoming increasingly intolerant of people writing outside their own experience.

        • Ah, but however Joyce accomplished it, I do think he provided a unique insight into women’s thinking at the time that it was written. I first read it in my twenties, when I had no idea what middle-aged women thought and I can’t think of any other novel like it that was around at that time…

  3. Oh, Lisa, this is the best book review I’ve ever read! Especially the final line, ‘Availability. No. If you won’t be warned off, you can find a copy by yourselves.’ You’ve made my day! :)

    • Thank you! You’ve made my day too :)

  4. I read this when it came out in 2007. I remembered little about it until you summarised the plot, such as it is. So I agree, not one of his best. Mothering Sunday is, imo. It’s good to say you don’t like a book; others can defend it if they feel inclined

    • Absolutely: I don’t like reviews that are hatchet-jobs for the sake of the reviewer getting publicity, but wishy-washy reviews are not my style.

  5. It certainly sounds annoying. Did you read the whole thing or skip to the end to discover the ‘secret’? I always find books, such as murder mysteries, rather pointless if all one has to do is look at the end to discover the point of the book.

    • No, I don’t skip to the end, not even when I’m fed up as I was with this one. But I did speed-read it.

  6. I’m just coming to the end of the audio version of this. Whether it is more annoying in print or audio I don’t know but I can’t wait for the end. I wish I could find so,ething positive,to,say about Paula Hook the main character but I can’t. She comes across as smug and self centred ieven at one point admitting that if comes to a choice between her kids and her husband he would be the one she would choose. What was Swift even thinking about in writing this book???

    • Yes, that’s my question too: what was he thinking? (Gosh, I admire your persistence in *listening* to it, I’d be driving off the road and into a tree if I had to listen to it while driving!)

  7. I consider myself warned – that quote is enough to put me off for life…

    • Yay, mission accomplished:)

  8. Love this so much Lisa. It’s important to document the books we don’t click with as well as those we love and adore and want everyone to read.

    It helps our readers know more about our reading tastes but it’s also good for us to clarify what type of writing works for us and why or why not.

    However it sounds like you are overdue for an amazing fiction read. Is Stephen Orr publishing anything soon?

    • Yes, you are right, I am overdue for that. I was thinking that just the other day when I browsed a certain bookseller’s most recent catalogue, and you know, it’s a rare day when I don’t buy at least four books from that catalogue… and I could not find a single book that appealed. They all sounded so dreary, and so narcissistic, and I thought back to wonderful books like Come Inside, and Glissando and Siddon Rock, and I wondered why it’s novels that mope are dominating at the moment. Individually they may be good novels, but collectively they are sooo depressing and not very imaginative.

      • I’m meant to read the teen YA books for work but they are also dominated by the moping voice at the moment & I just can’t do it. Not everyone has to have a dead parent or sibling that results in self harming behaviours surely?

        I’ve been reading more classics this year & having a lovely time with them so far.

        I got halfway through Auster’s 4321 but got weary of it, so I will finish Out Of Africa before trying it again.

        Ps Just quietly, our latest work catalogue doesn’t inspire me a lot either, except for the pretty autumnal colours they chose!

        Sadly it will stay the same until June/July as our rep lists have been pretty lacklustre so far. The occasional excitement (like a new Arandhuti Roy) but the rest …?

        • It makes what we do as bloggers harder. I mean, if we read this current crop of books and find them worthy but dull, that makes our blogs dull. What I want to achieve with my blog is to make people excited by OzLit and want to read it, but if I can’t find anything much to excite my readers, that’s not going to happen.
          The thing is, there is good stuff out there, but it’s harder to find. It’s coming from the smaller publishers who are willing to take a risk…

  9. Well, you haven’t enthused me I must say Lisa! Always good to know what not to read as it keeps the TBR piles low(er)!

  10. I even had bits of Molly Bloom memorised 15 or 20 years ago. What I want to achieve with my blog is to make people excited by OzLit and want to read it, but if I can’t find anything much to excite my readers, that’s not going to happen.


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