Here We Are by Graham Swift
Graham Swift’s latest novel, Here We Are, is a haunting, illusory tale. Set in the coastal city of Brighton during the summer of 1959, the narrative is driven by three participants in an annual ‘Holiday Show’; picture a summer carnival/circus type environment. Jack is spending his second summer as the compère (ringmaster) of the show, and invites his war buddy Ronnie to ply his magician’s trade with the caveat that he must first find an assistant. Ronnie runs a local ad and hires a young woman named Evie White to help him. It is only a matter of time until the two find themselves personally involved and quickly engaged.
Ronnie’s past emerges as a focal point. A product of London’s rough East End, his upbringing is fairly drab; an insightful moment comes when his (mostly absent) sailor father surprises the family with a bright, colorful parrot. Ronnie’s morose mother uses this opportunity to show her true colors, releasing the bird once her husband is gone, only to lie to him regarding its disappearance when he next returns. During WWII, Ronnie is sent to the English countryside as part of a government evacuee program, ending up at a stately home in the care of a married couple, the Lawrences. It is here that Ronnie experiences a rebirth, because it is here that he learns about magicians, illusion, and the power he could wield.
The rest of the story is filled in from Evie’s point of view 50 years later, as she looks back on the events of that specific summer and how it affected their three lives respectively.
Here We Are is a slideshow of past memories and current reflection, the scenery unfolding distantly behind a filtered lens that not only embellishes the time period, but also the fanciful world of the show that Ronnie, Jack and Evie inhabit.
The true magician turns out to be Swift all along as Here We Are appears to be one thing but turns out to be quite another. A truly remarkable and surprising read!
Review by Joel
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