Waterland by Graham Swift
Review by Lauren
Copy- I bought this
Official Summary: Set in the bleak Fen Country of East Anglia, and spanning some 240 years in the
lives of its haunted narrator and his ancestors, Waterland is a book that
takes in eels and incest, ale-making and madness, the heartless sweep of history
and a family romance as tormented as any in Greek tragedy.
Review: While the summary above is certainly accurate, it’s not very specific. However, Waterland is kind of a difficult book to explain. I feel like most of the novels I’m reading for my Contemporary British Lit class falls into that category. Basically…you get the narrator, Tom Crick, who is about to be forced into retirement by the school he has taught history at for over three decades. Instead of continuing the normal syllabus, Crick changes his history classes by telling the students his own personal history, mixed with European history such as the French Revolution.
I did enjoy the set up of the novel, as it goes back and forth between Crick in the present day and Crick’s life when he was a child…not to mention the stories that bring you into the history of his family and the Fen Country. For those that hate history, you will probably find this book a bit slow and boring throughout. However, if you love or can just appreciate various types of history, then I would suggest giving Waterland a try.
Crick is a fascinating narrator, because you get the feeling that he places himself in an inferior role to those around him. He’s not really a man of action, but that doesn’t mean he’s boring. I found myself empathizing with Tom’s plights and the life that he has been given. Waterland certainly shows how some of our actions can affect those around us, when you had no idea the consequences could be so grave. The Crick that narrates this book loves history, and he wants his students to appreciate it as much as he does, but he also wants them to place emphasis on their own history…those moments of the Here and Now that shape who you will become.
Waterland also opens up a very interesting question about history. If history is just individual’s accounts, then how do we know the whole truth? Crick is telling the story of his ancestors for them because they cannot or are not given a voice. The beginning of the book reveals that Crick’s wife is in trouble with the law but Crick is always the one giving his thoughts, his emotions, his version. What about Mary, his wife? What about his brother, Dick, who Tom never sees as smart enough?
History is all about perspective. And so, with Waterland, we get Tom’s.