Summary and book reviews of Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift

Wish You Were Here

By Graham Swift

Wish You Were Here
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2012,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2013,
    336 pages.

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Book Summary

From the prizewinning author of the acclaimed Last Orders, The Light of Day, and Waterland, a powerfully moving new novel set in present-day England, but against the background of a global "war on terror" and about things that touch our human core.
 
On an autumn day in 2006, on the Isle of Wight, Jack Luxton - once a farmer, now the proprietor of a seaside caravan park - receives the news that his brother Tom, not seen for years, has been killed in combat in Iraq. The news will have its far-reaching effects for Jack and his wife, Ellie, and compel Jack to make a crucial journey: to receive his brother's remains, but also to return to the land of his past and of his most secret, troubling memories. A gripping, hauntingly intimate, and compassionate story that moves toward a fiercely suspenseful climax, Wish You Were Here translates the stuff of headlines into heartwrenching personal truth.

1

There is no end to madness, Jack thinks, once it takes hold. Hadn’t those experts said it could take years before it flared up in human beings? So, it had flared up now in him and Ellie.

Sixty-five head of healthy-seeming cattle that finally succumbed to the rushed-through culling order, leaving a silence and emptiness as hollow as the morning Mum died, and the small angry wisp of a thought floating in it: Well, they’d better be right, those experts, it had better damn well flare up some day or this will have been a whole load of grief for nothing.

So then.

Healthy cattle. Sound of limb and udder and hoof—and mind. “Not one of them mad as far as I ever saw,” Dad had said, as if it was the start of one of his rare jokes and his face would crack into a smile to prove it. But his face had looked like simply cracking anyway and staying cracked, and the words he might have said, by way of a punchline, never left his lips, though Jack thinks now that ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. "Wish you were here” is a powerful phrase in the novel. Why is it so significant?

  2. Jack says, “…cattle aren’t people, that’s a fact” (page 4). But in what ways in the novel are cattle like people, or vice versa?

  3. What parallels can you draw between Jack and Tom and the earlier pair of Luxton brothers?

  4. “To become the proprietor of the very opposite thing to that deep-rooted farmhouse. Holiday homes, on wheels.” (page 29) What is Swift telling us through Jack’s observation?

  5. What does their Caribbean holiday symbolize to Ellie? To Jack?

  6. Did Jack really want to leave Devon, ten years earlier? If Ellie hadn’t suggested the Isle of Wight, what do you think might have happened?

  7. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

In his ninth novel, Swift returns to the same motifs - broken family relationships, English landscapes, and an internal narrative based on memory - that run through nearly all of his books... Swift delivers a truly remarkable story about one very unhappy family. He is a deeply affecting writer, one who explores the murky crevices of his characters and their lives... While a reader may not emerge emotionally unscathed, they will have had a deeply felt experience in reading this dark and aching novel that will resonate with you long after the last page is read.   (Reviewed by Jennifer Dawson Oakes).

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Media Reviews
The Sunday Times

Wish You Were Here is a work of wide, ambitious span... Recounted in pages of affecting, powerfully sober prose... What gives [the novel] a compelling hold is Swift's real strength, the authenticity that hallmarks his portrayals of people in crisis.

The Daily Mail (UK)

An acutely observed, compelling read.

The Times (London)

Like its predecessors, most notably Waterland and Last Orders, Wish You Were Here is a book of quiet emotional integrity... The novel expertly explores the poignant contrast between irrepressible human hope and the constraints within which we live our finite lives.

Evening Standard

An extraordinary novel... Novelists, being on the whole brainy people, like to write about brainy people, or make their characters better with words than they would be in real life... But as Swift's novels so brilliantly prove, just because someone doesn't have a way with words doesn't mean they can't experience deep emotion, or be powerfully moved by the forces of history and time... I doubt there is a better novelist than Swift for this kind of story

Scotland on Sunday

Like Ian McEwan's Saturday, or Sebastian Faulks's A Week in December, this novel draws on events from the news pages... But this emotionally complex novel is not mere reportage... It is Swift's most intimately revelatory novel yet... This is a profound and powerful portrait of a nation and a man in crisis that, for all its gentle intensity, also manages to be an unputdownable read.

The Sunday Express (UK)

Swift is as brilliant as ever on the potency of family myth... This novel is often astonishingly moving.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Swift has written a slow-moving but powerful novel about the struggle to advance beyond grief and despair and to come to grips with the inevitability of change.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Profound empathy and understated eloquence mark a novel so artfully nuanced that the last few pages send the reader back to the first few, with fresh understanding.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Swift creates an elegant rawness with language that carries the reader through several layers of Jack's consciousness at once...

The Bookbag

I cannot tell you exactly how long after I finished this book that I sat, holding it, in stunned silence for - but it was light when I finished it and dark when I put it down. Some books can do that to you. This is one of them... Jack is a sort of Heathcliff type of character... Totally captivating... There's such a beautiful tone to the writing and it's so moving that I cannot imaging it failing to move anyone... Swift has already won one Man Booker prize - this deserves another nomination.

Express

Swift's best since Waterland.... It begins to read like a thriller... Here Swift parcels out information like an Agatha Christie detective... The pace quickens and quickens. Almost against your will you find yourself racing through Swift's brief chapters.

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Mad Cow and Foot and Mouth Diseases

In Graham Swift's novel, Wish You Were Here, the Luxton family twice loses their dairy herds to mass slaughter in the wake of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreaks. Two very distinct and separate diseases, BSE and FMD, when they surface in agriculture, can be utterly devastating to farmers and national economies.

BSE is more commonly known as "Mad Cow Disease" and is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that attacks cows specifically. It causes the brain and spinal cord of affected animals to suffer a spongy deterioration, so called because of the formation of tiny sponge-like holes in the brain tissue. The United Kingdom has been most extremely impacted by BSE where it was first identified by a...

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