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The Light of Day

By Graham Swift
Published by Hamish Hamilton

This quintessentially English writer’s first novel since 1996’s Booker Award winning Last Orders takes place, like its predecessor, over one day although, again in common with that book, there is much reflective interplay between past events and present circumstances, with memories and desires prompted and fuelled by landscape and locale.
George Webb is an ex-policeman turned private detective. He specialises in ‘matrimonial work’, which literally as opposed to euphemistically means tailing suspected errant husbands (it does always seem to be the husbands), and getting the goods on them for their aggrieved, suspecting wives.
It is Thursday, November 20th, and George is setting out for his fortnightly visit to ex-client Sarah Nash, who is in prison, serving eight to ten years for the murder of her gynaecologist husband, Bob. But this Thursday is even more special than usual, since it is the second anniversary of Bob’s death. George breaks his journey to place flowers on Bob’s grave, at Sarah’s request. Bob had become involved with orphaned Croatian refugee Kristina, who college lecturer Sarah had taken into their home, out of pity for her plight. Bob, who was not a philanderer by nature, found he could not live without her. When she returned to Croatia, he did not want to live.

 

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In plain, unadorned prose, we enter George’s world of moral ambiguity, where nothing is simply black and white, there are only varying shades of grey. We learn of his relationships with his parents, and with the other women in his life: Rachel, his ex-wife; Rita, his assistant; and Helen, his daughter. We come to realise that he himself is the grip of a powerful obsession, as he waits patiently for the distant day when Sarah will at last step out once again into the light.
Nabokov, famously, in his lecture on Madame Bovary, called adultery ‘a most conventional way to be unconventional’. But where would short story writers or novelists, of any era or nationality, be without it? From Chekhov to Updike, for example, it would appear to be the most reliable index of social mores, and to contain an entire hermeneutics of individual character.
The Light of Day doesn’t feel like it took seven years to write. But, then again, Swift may well have been working on something else simultaneously, which has still to see the light of day, or may simply have been preoccupied with other things entirely. Nevertheless, this is still a fine novel by a fine novelist.

First published in the Irish Independent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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