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The Light of Day: A Novel Paperback – August 10, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

In The Light of Day, Booker Prize-winning author Graham Swift takes readers into the mind of an ex-cop turned private investigator, who mulls over his relationship with a former client jailed for murdering her husband. In classic noir fashion, Webb has fallen for his client and anxiously awaits her release. Moreover, Webb had been called in to track the husband's affair, and Webb's role in the crime remains dubious. Swift's novel is somewhat in the vein of stream-of-consciousness style; Webb's thoughts are described, as they take place throughout a single day, in no particular order and without adhering to any strict plot structure. The novel's strength is indeed its structure: it is based not on chronology but as if on a sort of emotional resonance, with Webb's thoughts and preoccupations providing the novel with a depth not normally found in traditional detective novels. As an example, Swift writes of Webb's recollection of tailing the husband, after he had ended the affair and put his ex-lover on a plane:

He headed back towards the car park. In his shoes what would I have done? Found some spot that looked out on the runways? Pressed my nose against cold glass? All those taxiing lights. All those trundling planes, the people inside them like mere possibilities. At night it's hard to follow....
Webb is a fallible gumshoe who doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, but, thanks to Swift's deft prose, has the range of his emotions revealed as he looks toward the future and contemplates his past actions in The Light of Day. --Michael Ferch --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

George Webb, a divorced ex-cop and the narrator of this fine novel, works as a private investigator in London specializing in "matrimonial work": finding evidence of philandering. Some of the tearful women who enter his office become lovers (one, Rita, becomes his heart-of-gold assistant), but Sarah Nash becomes something altogether different. A language teacher and translator, she wants Webb to follow her husband and his lover, Kristina Lazic, a refugee taken in by the Nashes, to the airport "to see if she really goes"-alone-back to Croatia. Sarah knows the truth of the affair already; she's just looking for a sign that her husband can love her again. But the story belongs to Webb, through a masterful interior monologue that links the action of the present with a meditation on the past. Webb's movements on a particular day in November furnish the opportunity to learn about his childhood, his failed marriage, his career as a policeman terminated by a minor scandal and his constrained and lonely life. Sarah becomes Webb's opportunity for a second chance at happiness and redemption. But that reality will have to wait until her release from prison (it's not giving away the plot to note her crime: the murder of her husband). While this story sounds a bit like an American noir thriller from the 1930s (and Swift's title may be a nod to the noir fascination with night and shadow), the Booker Prize-winning author (for Last Orders) is after bigger themes: the weight of history, the role of fate, the inexplicable vagaries of love. Though perhaps not at the level of Last Orders, this beautifully written novel is a worthwhile addition to the Swift canon.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 323 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400032210
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032211
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #987,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
Initially resembling an old-fashioned, hard-boiled detective story, this novel by Graham Swift becomes, as the perspective widens, an investigation of love, man's need for love, and the sacrifices we are all willing to make for love. Private detective George Webb allows the reader to "tag along" during one day of his life in 1997, talking to his readers about aspects of his life as they impinge randomly on his consciousness. Description is not a big part of George's life, and it takes the reader some time to understand all his references in this lengthy interior monologue. We don't know, at first, why Nov. 20 is a significant date to him or where he goes every other Thursday, nor do we know about his personal relationships with the women introduced at the beginning, or the reason he's buying flowers, or why he's had a woman's handbag in his possession for two years.

As George's recollections, memories, and observations expand, however, we gradually come to know him and his past, including his relationship with his father, his own broken marriage and the circumstances surrounding it, his alienated daughter, his womanizing, the scandal which has resulted in his leaving the police force, and his decision to specialize in "matrimonial work." We learn, too, that George's client, Mrs. Nash, is now in jail, the reasons for this unfolding even more gradually, as we come to know her, her husband Bob, and the privileged life they've led. Always, however, our opinions of these characters and their relationships are colored by George's point of view, and we, as objective observers, learn as much about them from what George does not say as we do by what he does say.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By I. J Zelo on November 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is about style and the journey. It is about rehashing the past. It's about how we dwell on little things that done differently would have had huge impacts on our lives. It is not a mystery. It is not "hard boiled". It is obviously not what a number of reviewers were looking for when then started it. That doesn't mean it's not good. It just means they haven't separated the two.

It's true that the narrator seemingly falls for this woman without reason or explanation to the reader. One critic said this was hard to believe, that without enough this depth and explanation the whole premise to the story was flawed. But then isn't that exactly what guys do. Suddenly they are mad about someone for absolutely no reason. Just the right time or mood when they meet a woman, or a unexpected comment or smile. It's that easy.

The book is maybe a little long but it does feel like you've rehashed the incident as if it were your own. This is exactly what happens when people go down a road that makes them miserable but one that they feel stuck in. They spend ridiculous amounts of time going over and over the situation, with slightly different tangents each time.

Don't expect a plain Jane detective novel. Don't assume you know George because of what you read about him on the flyleaf and you may enjoy how the book says what it does.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By jmm on July 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Unfortunately, I was far less enamoured of The Light of Day than the four reviewers who have already posted. I love most of Graham Swift's novels: Last Orders, The Sweet Shop Owner, Waterland, etc. I was very excited to purchase and read TLOD. The experience was very disappointing. I wouldn't mind the narrowness of the book's temporal span (essentially, it follows the protagonist's emotions over the course of a single day, although memories and flashbacks reach back many years), were it not for the fact that I find the book's emotional and thematic range similarly limited. By the midway point of the book, Swift had pretty much covered the range of emotions experienced by George and exhausted the character's development. From a thematic and emotional standpoint, the rest of the book was mostly repetition of ground that already had been covered.
Also, the pseudo-detective story overlay for the novel wears thin quickly. Any real "suspense" dissipates quickly, leaving the gumshoe-as-metaphor-for-exploration-of-mysteries-of-the-heart concept a fairly intrusive and clunky affectation to drag through the remainder of the book.
This may have been a good idea for a long story or short novella, but it doesn't hold up for a whole novel. Frankly, I had to force myself to finish it, which is remarkably different from my experience with other of Swift's novels.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Myers VINE VOICE on January 10, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What to say about all these negative reviews ere I say anything about the book? Just this: If you don't love poetry, you WILL NOT like this book. Don't bother with it. Forget it exists. Expunge it from your mind. Swift invites these other sorts of readers and reviewers, I suppose, because, our main character - Indeed, the sole character through whose senses (all five, not merely sight) - George Webb, is a PI and there is a murder involved. So, let it be known, this novel is not about murder or detection (as the word is generally understood), but rather about language, love and life.

What Swift does here in this poetical novel is, to a great extent, an exploration of clichés, words and phrases we use every day and how TRUE to life they are. The two that come in for the most exploration by our narrator George are: 1.) He/She crossed a line 2.) Something came over him/her. This is most obvious when the murderess "crosses a line" after "something came over her," and she kills her husband. But in George's meditations, his memories tersely but poetically articulated here - One is reminded of nothing so much as Emily Dickinson - these phrases that we tritely throw around come to metaphorise what does indeed happen to us constantly. Reader, or potential reader, try thinking of one experience that is of significance to you, that happened to you or to someone you love. Got it? Now, take some time about this and ponder how much deliberate "choice" was involved or, by turn, how much something "came over one" and "somebody crossed a line." The more one meditates, like George, on his past and present, the more mysterious all life seems, the more fragile, the more out of our control.
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