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Waterland Paperback – March 31, 1992

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Editorial Reviews


"Perfectly controlled, superbly written -- Waterland is original, compelling and narration of the highest order." -- The Guardian (U.K.)

"Swift spins a tale of empire-building, land reclamation, brewers and sluice-minders, bewhiskered Victorian patriarchs, insane and visionary relicts.... I can't remember when I read a book of such strange, insidious, unsettling power with a more startling cast of characters." -- Books and Bookmen (U.K.)

"Teems with energy, fertility, violence, madness -- demonstrates the irrepressible, wide-ranging talent of this young British writer." -- Washington Post Book World

"A formidably intelligent book -- animated by an impressive, angry pity at what human creatures are capable of doing to one another in the name of love and need.... The most powerful novel I have read for some time." -- The New York Review of Books

"Waterland appropriates the Fens as Moby Dick did whaling or Wuthering Heights the moors -- a beautiful, serious, and intelligent novel, admirably ambitious and original." -- The Observer (U.K.)

"Rich, ingenious, inspired." -- The New York Times

From the Inside Flap

Set in the bleak Fen Country of East Anglia, and spanning some 240 years in the lives of its haunted narrator and his ancestors, Waterland is a book that takes in eels and incest, ale-making and madness, the heartless sweep of history and a family romance as tormented as any in Greek tragedy.

"Waterland, like the Hardy novels, carries with all else a profound knowledge of a people, a place, and their interweaving.... Swift tells his tale with wonderful contemporary verve and verbal felicity.... A fine and original work."--Los Angeles Times

Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (March 31, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679739793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679739791
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Shara Klevan on October 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book was masterfully told in the form of a retrospective by a history teacher, Tom Crick, who is being forced into early retirement under the guise of "cut backs." Crick's narrative takes the reader through hundreds of years of history, painting pictures of youthful sexual experimentation; love; betrayal; mental illness and even baby-snatching. Crick is disheartened by his forced early retirement and disallusioned by life. He struggles to answer the question "Why, Why, Why?" regarding his own life by answering his pupil's question as to why history is important. His student feels that the here and now is important and to dwell on the past is a waste of time. Crick searches for answers by giving his class a history lesson on his youth and his anscestry. The story takes many twists and turns and shows us the consequences of the actions of many of the men in this history teacher's "history." Swift takes the reader through a botched abortion performed on Mary, the love of Crick's life, and we are privy to the physical and mental consequences of that act. Swift provides wonderful characters such as Dick, Tom's brother, who reminded me of Steinbeck's Lenny in the masterpiece "Of Mice and Men." Waterland tells tales of insanity, giving us characters like Sarah Atkinson who goes nuts as a result of domestic abuse and mistrust by her husband who shares Crick's first name. Sarah shows up at various other points as a ghost, adding a sense of mysticism to the tale. Swift takes chances on subjects that are often taboo, such as incest and child abduction. Crick's mother who was adored by his father, had a sexual relationship with her father. We are given insight into the relationship and provided with her point of view.Read more ›
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Russel E. Higgins on March 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
A reader must have patience and perseverance while reading Graham Swift's remarkable novel "Waterland." Like some of the better authors in British literature, Mr. Swift weaves theme upon theme with great virtuosity and skill; the reader must follow the turns and detours of the expansive plot while dealing with an unusual handling of time. The extraordinary tale is narrated by Tom Crick, a rambling storyteller and ex-history teacher from England's Fen Country. He is the son of a canal lock keeper, and the story he tells - although frequently convoluted, digressive, and rambling - is one of the most fascinating stories I have ever read. Right before he is forced to retire in the 1980's, Tom abandons the history curriculum of the school at which he teaches and relates instead a three-hundred page saga of the Fen Country involving murder, incest, madness, ghosts, revenge, and two centuries of pain and tragedy. He incorporates this remarkable history with references to the French Revolution and to his own painful story of growing up during World War II, becoming involved with a bizarre murder and with a witless half-brother who was conceived in order to become "Saviour of the World." It is a disquieting and painful novel, a work of Gothic proportions in which the reader must maintain the utmost concentration. But the rewards are great. I simply could not get this novel out of my mind while I was reading it. I quickly became enthralled with Tom Crick's touching story, with his striking historical account of his ancestors, and with his marvelously graphic description of the Fen Country and its austerity and often tragic hardships. In fact the Fen Country is a major character in the novel for it acts upon the characters in extraordinary ways.Read more ›
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Nick DeAngelo on October 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
Through his sometimes over-inflated, long-winded and dramatic language, Graham Swift tells the story of history in his book Waterland, because history, to Tom Crick, the book's narrator, is just that: a story. "..." (135). The fairy-tales of history are constantly returning to claim the present time's mysteries as reoccurrences, soothing those who so boldly demand explanations. These explanations, however, cannot be found in studying French Revolutions or the New World; the purpose of history, education, and fairy-tales is to eliminate fear of what's to come. In the same way that Helen Atkinson soothes her veteran patients to mental health with her stories, the world inundates itself with fairy tales, convincing explanations for the way things are, the way things progress. Once faced with the loss of his job and a rebellious youth named Price, Crick tells his own story, beginning appropriately with "Once upon a time..." (7).
His story is told in realistic sequence, that is, as it comes to mind, in three parts. The present day conflict with overflowing curriculum loads, fanatical headmasters, and unmotivated students leads Crick to conceal his biggest fears of progression with fairy-tales, his own family history, laborers of water control and land reclamation, giving Crick his roots in the Fens, and also, the rise and decline of the Atkinson name, once a prominent brewing family turned to insanity and incest, tying all three together in an overview of world history.
As this book points out, history is not the only thing to move in cycles. Nature has its own dramatic role in this novel. The deceitful Eastern winds, sometimes bringing ample life to the region, other times signifying death.
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