Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift


Mothering Sunday
by Graham Swift
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
177 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Summary (from Goodreads):
Twenty-two year old Jane Fairchild, orphaned at birth, has worked as a maid at one English country estate since she was sixteen. And for almost all of those years she has been the secret lover to Paul Sheringham, the scion of the estate next door. On an unseasonably warm March afternoon, Jane and Paul will make love for the last time--though not, as Jane believes, because Paul is about to be married--and the events of the day will alter Jane's life forever. As the narrative moves back and forth from 1924 to the end of the century, what we know and understand about Jane--about the way she loves, thinks, feels, sees, remembers--deepens with every beautifully wrought moment. Her story is one of profound self-discovery and through her, Graham Swift has created an emotionally soaring and deeply affecting work of fiction.

My thoughts: 

Mothering Sunday  was a near perfect reading experience. I started it on a Friday evening while sipping a glass of wine by the lake. Within a few pages, the narrative cast a spell and it held me captive until I turned the final page Saturday morning.

Swift's writing is simply beautiful - every word carefully chosen, every sentence perfectly crafted - and it left me in awe of his talent.

The novel's action takes place on a single day (Mothering Sunday, May 1924), though the story actually weaves in and out of time over the course of Jane Fairchild's life... in a manner reminiscent of Mrs. Dalloway. I was also reminded of Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach and, though I can't explain precisely why, Julian Barne's The Sense of An Ending. Both of those were favorites the year I read them. The setting, time period, and upstairs/downstairs interactions were an added bonus for this Downton Abbey fan.

My one complaint about Mothering Sunday? It was too short. I would have relished another hundred pages of Jane.

It's always a thrill to discover a new author, but why did it take me so long to get around to Graham Swift? I plan to read his entire backlist now. Hopefully those previous novels are as good as Mothering Sunday.

A few quotes:

Jane thrills to words of all kinds, calling herself a gatherer... They’re never enough, as the book makes clear, but they’re the only tools we’ve got. Life is “about finding a language,” however ineffectual it may be...

It was called "relaxation," she thought, a word that did not commonly enter a maid's vocabulary. She had many words, by now, that did not enter a maid's vocabulary. Even the word "vocabulary."

...and the point of libraries, she sometimes though, was not the books themselves but that they preserved this hallowed atmosphere of not-to-be-disturbed male sanctuary.

The gathering evening, the apricot light, the gauzy green-gold world, was impossibly beautiful.

She was... put into service.... it made you an occupational observer of life, it put you on the outside looking in. Since those who served served, and those who were being served - lived. Though sometimes, to be honest, it felt at the time entirely the other way round. It was the servants who lived, and a hard life they had of it, and the ones who were served who seemed not to know exactly what to do with their lives. Proper lost souls, in fact...

My rating:

28 comments:

  1. Oh! I remember that apricot and green-gold image! A lovely book -- one of my favorites too.

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    1. Audrey - That image really struck me, too! Just borrowed Last Orders from the library.

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  2. I saw your posts somewhere - maybe Litsy? - and remember that you loved this book. It sounds wonderful!

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    1. Kathy - It probably was Litsy... I was raving there, too ;-)

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  3. After deciding that this is a book I must read, I wasn't going to read your quotes, but couldn't resist! This sounds like such a beautiful gem of a book. I can't wait to give it a try.

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    1. Les - The writing is absolutely gorgeous! Can't wait to read another one of his books.

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  4. This sounds so good, and I love the writing in the quotes. If those are an indication of the style of the book, I think I'd love this one. I really like the premise of this one!

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    1. Kathy - This is such a quiet, beautiful book. I hope you like it, too.

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  5. Lovely review for such a wonderful book. Like you I plan to read Swift's backlist now. Although I may reread Mothering Sunday before I do anything else!

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    1. Brona - I'd love to read Mothering Sunday again, but of course the library copy is checked out. Came home with Last Orders instead.

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  6. I like the sound of this book, I am going to put it on my Goodreads list right now.

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    1. Tina - I love books like this... so quiet and beautiful!

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  7. The only other Graham Swift I've read is Last Orders, which I quite enjoyed. I have this one on my TBR. I'm glad you liked it; that makes me eager to read it!

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    1. Debbie - I just borrowed Last Orders from the library!

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  8. Oh, gosh, JoAnn,
    This book sounds perfect for me as well. I've got to get a hold of it. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. Judith - I absolutely loved this book, and that seems to make writing about it even harder! I hope you get a chance to try it... so, so beautiful.

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  9. I haven't read any Graham Swift but looks like I am missing out! I have seen a few books by this author but this is the first time I am reading such a positive review.

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    1. Athira - I'm not sure if all of Swift's novels are as quiet and contemplative, but look forward to finding out. Such gorgeous prose!!

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  10. Hmmmm...I have not heard of this author either...ever...but the book sounds intriguing as long as it's flashback free!

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    1. Patty - No real flashback here... you're safe ;-)

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  11. I may have to put this one on my list. Right now my stack of books is looking a bit overwhelming; on the other hand, Recentky I have quit a few early on simply because I didn't like subject matter or writing style. Getting to where I can pass up quicker than I used to. Have a great weekend on the boat with Zelda. Her name seems to fit her very well.

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    1. JudyMac - This book was excellent... a writing style to envy! We had a wonderful weekend. Zelda is a better traveler (and boater) than at least one of my daughters ;-)

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  12. Geez when did this come out? It went right by me. Thanks for the word on it!

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    1. Susan - This is a pretty new book, but the author doesn't get much buzz in the US. Hope you check him out.

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  13. So, were you able to discern the body part on the cover? I still am confused about it, but you've got a very good shot of it there in the beginning.

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    1. Trish - Haha! Not definitively ;-)

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  14. Thanks so much for this recommendation ... I read this in one sitting this afternoon at the library and was transfixed. Simply gorgeous. And yes, I was thinking of Mrs. Dalloway, too. It felt very Virginia Woolf. Loved this one; definitely going to be one of my favorites this year.

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    1. Melissa - I'm so glad!! It will definitely appear on my list of favorites next month, too. Can't believe it's been almost six months and I still haven't picked up another one of his novels...

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