Have you ever read a book that caused you so much emotional turmoil you had to put it down and breathe for a moment before continuing? Mothering Sunday did that for me. On the surface, it's the simple story of Jane Fairchild, a girl in service immediately following WWI. She has been sleeping with the rich neighbor boy, Paul, for years but now he's getting married. They have a final day together. After that first half, we learn more about Jane's future life as a wife and a professional writer, but the meat of the story is the time that Jane and Paul have together and Jane's time wandering the house. The immediate comparison that came to mind was Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. Swift uses the single incident and its aftermath as a kind of meditation on language. He approaches the moment over and over from different oblique angles, wringing the truth from it, considering how fiction is sometimes truer than the truth. Yet, it becomes clear that none of the characters can truly know each other. Mothering Sunday has a muffled, isolated feeling, yet the pain of the story built quietly but insistently. This was my first Graham Swift novel but it won't be the last. I couldn't put the book down and finished it in one sitting. If you love books that meditate on language and connection, if you're a fan of the quiet tone of an Ishiguro novel, you'll sink into this one.
Aug 17, 2022