The Light of Day by Graham Swift

The Light of Day by Graham Swift

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 324 pages, 2003

Rating: 3/10

Reason for Reading: Longlisted for the 2003 Booker.

Synopsis: In a single day, an ex-cop turned private investigator of marital affairs explores how the events of two years ago lead from affairs to murder.

Why you should read this book: Sentence by sentence, Swift is a great writer, as acknowledged by The Light of Day being on the 2003 Booker Prize long-list. It’s taken paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, or as a whole that this book frustrates.

Why you should avoid this book: As the judges whittled the Booker long list down to the short list, they mentioned cutting a lot of books for being ‘pretentious,’ ‘pompous,’ and ‘written for award consideration only.’ They might have called Swift by name, as this book falls into all of those categories. Swift spends most of the book hinting at having a story, but there’s only maybe fifty pages of substance here; the rest is the main character, George, circle-walking in his head over things that happened, or how things might have happened differently. It’s hard to be both vague and repetitious, but Swift has accomplished both with this frustratingly boring non-story. There just isn’t enough going on to sustain the book.

Opening paragraph:

‘Something’s come over you.’ That’s what Rita said over two years ago now, and now she knows it wasn’t just a thing of the moment.
Something happens. We cross a line, we open a door we never knew was there. It might never have happened, we might never have known. Most of life, maybe, is only time served.


I should have seen it even there in Marco’s. The sticking to her ground, the coolness. Not just a girl with balls who’d told some bloke to take his grubby mitts off. So when she walked out on me twenty years later I shouldn’t have been surprised. My mitts were grubby now, so to speak. She was unchoosing me. Slipping her arm out of mine like a ship unties from its moorings. Sailing on.

The chair swivelled round. I felt dizzy. I looked at the books and breathed deeply. Ha – as if you could do it without reading, take in their contents, just by breathing. Not my thing, books, man of action, me. A cop, a thief-catcher. On-your-feet stuff.
But when it came to it, it was fifty per cent watching and thinking, fifty per cent in your head.
And would the person who’d used this room, these books, this desk – who must have lived a lot, clearly, in their head – would they, could they, have committed such an action? Picked up a knife-?

Instead, try: Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee; Blindness by Jose Saramago.

Also by this author: Tomorrow; The Sweet-Shop Owner; Shuttlecock; Waterland; Out of This World; Ever After; Last Orders; Learning to Swim.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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