Excerpt from Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Mothering Sunday

A Romance

by Graham Swift

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift X
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2017, 192 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick
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Print Excerpt

You shall go to the ball!

Mothering Sunday

Once upon a time, before the boys were killed and when there were more horses than cars, before the male servants disappeared and they made do, at Upleigh and at Beech wood, with just a cook and a maid, the Sheringhams had owned not just four horses in their own stable, but what might be called a "real horse," a racehorse, a thoroughbred. Its name was Fandango. It was stabled near Newbury. It had never won a damn thing. But it was the family's indulgence, their hope for fame and glory on the racecourses of southern England. The deal was that Ma and Pa— otherwise known in his strange language as "the shower"—owned the head and body and he and Dick and Freddy had a leg each.

"What about the fourth leg?"

"Oh the fourth leg. That was always the question."

For most of the time it was just a name, never seen, though an expensively quartered and trained name. It had been sold in 1915—when he'd been fifteen too. "Before you showed up, Jay." But once, long ago, early one June morning, they'd all gone, for the strange, mad expedition of it, just to watch it, just to watch Fandango, their horse, being galloped over the downs. Just to stand at the rail and watch it, with other horses, thundering towards them, then flashing past. He and Ma and Pa and Dick and Freddy. And—who knows?—some other ghostly interested party who really owned the fourth leg.

He had a hand on her leg

It was the only time she'd known his eyes go anything close to misty. And she'd had the clear sharp vision (she would have it still when she was ninety) that she might have gone with him—might still somehow miraculously go with him, just him—to stand at the rail and watch Fandango hurtle past, kicking up the mud and dew. She had never seen such a thing but she could imagine it, imagine it clearly. The sun still coming up, a red disc, over the grey downs, the air still crisp and cold, while he shared with her, perhaps, a silver-capped hip flask and, not especially stealthily, clawed her arse.


But she watched him now move, naked but for a silver signet ring, across the sunlit room. She would not later in life use with any readiness, if at all, the word "stallion" for a man. But such he was. He was twenty-three and she was twenty-two. And he was even what you might call a thoroughbred, though she did not have that word then, any more than she had the word "stallion." She did not yet have a million words. Thoroughbred: since it was "breeding" and "birth" that counted with his kind. Never mind to what actual purpose.

It was March 1924. It wasn't June, but it was a day like June. And it must have been a little after noon. A window was flung open, and he walked, unclad, across the sun-filled room as carelessly as any unclad animal. It was his room, wasn't it? He could do what he liked in it. He clearly could.

And she had never been in it before, and never would be again.

And she was naked too.

March 30th 1924. Once upon a time. The shadows from the latticework in the window slipped over him like foliage. Having gathered up the cigarette case and lighter and a little silver ashtray from the dressing table, he turned, and there, beneath a nest of dark hair and fully bathed by sunshine, were his cock and balls, mere floppy and still sticky appendages. She could look at them if she liked, he didn't mind.

But then he could look at her. She was stretched out naked, except for a pair—her only pair—of very cheap earrings. She hadn't pulled up the sheet. She had even clasped her hands behind her head the better to look at him. But he could look at her. Feast your eyes.

It was an expression that came to her. Expressions had started to come to her. Feast your eyes. Outside, all Berkshire stretched out too, girded with bright greenery, loud with birdsong, blessed in March with a day in June.

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Excerpted from Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift. Copyright © 2016 by Graham Swift. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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