An exceptional first novel from an important novelist, thus 5 stars. Here, Graham Swift looks at boundaries: The narrow geographical boundaries of the small London suburb in which the story is set ("We never moved out of these narrow bounds. Born here, schooled here, worked here,") and the narrow emotional boundaries of his characters' relationships (The paragraph continues, "And even when I met her I stood here on the common and thought: enough, now everything is in its place, and I in mine.") The theme of narrow boundaries is deftly rendered in the relationship of the sweet-shop owner, Willie Chapman, and his wife Irene who, from the start, sets the limits of their relationship, and in the father/daughter and the mother/daughter relationships, all locked within narrow confines.
Swift is quoted as saying: "I think if you know that you have a talent, then . . . you should try not to dissipate it. You should try to hold onto it and keep it, concentrate it - not to do as the whole world tends to do these days, and diversify. Diversification doesn't work with art. Keep the old firm in business, don't go into other fields of trade." Although some believe that his later work reveals a talent as a dramatist, may his "old firm" of novel writing thrive well into the future.