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  • Tomorrow
  • Written by Graham Swift
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  • Tomorrow
  • Written by Graham Swift
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On Sale: September 30, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-307-47275-5
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

On a midsummer's night Paula Hook lies awake; Mike, her husband of twenty-five years, asleep beside her; her teenage twins, Nick and Kate, sleeping in nearby rooms. The next day, she knows, will redefine all of their lives.

Recalling the years before and after her children were born, Paula begins a story that is both a glowing celebration of love possessed and a moving acknowledgment of the secrets on which our very identities rest. Brilliantly distilling half a century into one suspenseful night, Tomorrow is an eloquent meditation on the mystery of happiness.

Excerpt

Chapter One

You're asleep, my angels, I assume. So, to my amazement and relief, is your father, like a man finding it in him to sleep on the eve of his execution. He'll need all he can muster tomorrow. I'm the only one awake in this house on this night before the day that will change all our lives. Though it's already that day: the little luminous hands on my alarm clock (which I haven't set) show just gone one in the morning. And the nights are short. It's almost midsummer, 1995. It's a week past your sixteenth birthday. By a fluke that's become something of an embarrassment and that some people will say wasn't a fluke at all, you were born in Gemini. I'm not an especially superstitious woman. I married a scientist. But one little thing I'll do tomorrow—today, I mean, but for a little while still I can keep up the illusion—is cross my fingers.

Everything's quiet, the house is still. Mike and I have anticipated this moment, we've talked about it and rehearsed it in our heads so many times that recently it's sometimes seemed like a relief: it's actually come. On the other hand, it's monstrous, it's outrageous—and it's in our power to postpone it. But "after their sixteenth birthday," we said, and let's be strict about it. Perhaps you may even appreciate our discipline and tact. Let's be strict, but let's not be cruel. Give them a week. Let them have their birthday, their last birthday of that old life.

You're sleeping the deep sleep of teenagers. I just about remember it. I wonder how you'll sleep tomorrow.

Sixteen was old enough, sixteen was about right. You're not kids any more, you'd be the first to endorse that. And even in the last sixteen years, you could say, sixteen's become older. Sixteen now is like eighteen was, sixteen years ago. There's an acceleration, an upgrading to things that scare me, but seem hardly to touch you. 1995—already. I'll be fifty in August, I'll have done my annual catching up with your father. What a year of big numbers. Fifty, of course, is nothing now, it's last season's forty. Life's getting longer, more elastic. But that doesn't stop the years getting quicker, this feeling that the world is hurtling.

Perhaps you don't feel it, in your becalmed teenage sleep. Perhaps you want the world to hurtle. Come on, can't it go any faster? Perhaps what all parents want from their children is to feel again that deep, long, almost stationary slowness of time. Another sweet taste of it, please.

But sixteen years have passed and sixteen's like eighteen once was, maybe. But that doesn't matter. To me, tonight, you're still little kids, you're tiny babies, as if you might be sleeping now, not in your separate dens of rooms, but together as you once did in a single cot at Davenport Road. Our Nick and Kate. And what I'm feeling now is simply the most awful thing: that we might be wrenching you for ever from your childhood, in the same way as if you might have been wrenched once prematurely and dangerously from my womb. But you were right on time: the tenth of June 1979. And at two, as it happens, in the morning.

Mike will do the talking. He knows, he accepts that it's up to him. On a Saturday, knowing you both, the morning will be half gone before you even appear for breakfast, and you'll need your breakfast. Then Mike will say that we need to talk to you. He'll say it in an odd, uncasual way, and you'll think twice about answering back. No, right now, please. Whatever other plans you had, drop them. There'll be something in his voice. He'll ask you to sit in the living room. I'll make some fresh coffee. You'll wonder what the hell is going on. You'll think your father's looking rather strange. But then you might have noticed that already, you might have noticed it all this week. What's up with Dad? What's up with the pair of them?

As he asks you to sit, side by side, on the sofa (we've even discussed such minor details), you'll do a quick run-through in your minds of all those stories that friends at school have shared with you: inside stories, little bulletins on domestic crisis. It's your turn now, perhaps. It has the feeling of catastrophe. He's about to tell you (despite, I hope, your strongest suppositions) that he and I are splitting up. Something's been going on now for a little while. He's been having an affair with one of those (young and picked by him) women at his office. An Emma or a Charlotte. God forbid. Or I've been having an affair (God forbid indeed) with Simon at Walker's, or with one of our esteemed but importunate clients. Married life here in Rutherford Road is not all it seems. Success and money, they do funny things. So does being fifty.

You're in tune with such under-the-surface stuff from your between-lessons gossip. It's part of your education: the hidden life of Putney.

But then—you're sixteen. Do you notice, these days, that much about us at all? Do you pick up on our moods and secrecies? We've had a few rows in recent weeks, have you actually noticed? And we don't often row. But then, so have you. You're at a stage—don't think I haven't noticed—when that cord, that invisible rope that runs between you has been stretched to its limit. It's been yanked and tugged this way and that. You have your own worlds to deal with.

And you've only just finished your exams. Ordeal enough. This should have been a weekend of recuperation. And if you'd still had more exams to go we'd have stretched our timetable to accommodate them. Let's not ruin their chances, let's not spoil their concentration. Bad enough that your birthday, last weekend, should have been subject to your last bouts of revision. As it is, we've been tempted. Let's wait—till after the results perhaps, till after one more precious summer. But we came back to our firm ruling: one week's cushion only. And since your birthday fell this year, handily, on a Saturday . . . Forgive us, there's more revision. Exams can affect your life. So can this.

Mike will do the talking. I'll add my bits. And, of course, when he's finished he'll make himself open to questions, as many as you wish. To cross-examination, might be the better expression. It all just might, conceivably, go to plan, though I'm not sure what the "plan" really is, apart from our rigorous timing. It might all be like some meeting that smoothly and efficiently accomplishes its purpose, but it can hardly be like one of your dad's board meetings or one of our cursory get-togethers at Walker's: "That was all dealt with at the meeting . . ."

I think, anyway, you'll want to know everything, the full, complete and intricate story. And you deserve it, as a matter of record.

Your father is gently snoring.

I remember once you said to me, Kate: "Tell me about before I was born." Such simply uttered and innocent words: they sent a shiver through me. I should have been delighted, charmed, even a little flattered. You actually had a concept of a time before you were around, a dawning interest in it. You saw it had some magic connection with you, if you still thought of it, maybe, like life on another planet.

How old were you then—eight? We were on the beach in Cornwall, at Carrack Cove, we had those three summers there, this must have been the second. I'd wrapped you in the big faded-blue beach towel and was rubbing you gently dry, and I remember thinking that the towel was no longer like something inside which you could get lost and smothered, you were so much bigger now. And a whole year had passed since the time when, off that same beach, you both quite suddenly learnt to swim. First you, then Nick almost immediately afterwards, like clockwork. One of those first-time and once-only moments of life. But I'd suddenly called you "a pair of shrimps." Why not "fish?" Or "heroes?" I suppose it was the pinkness and littleness. I suppose it was the way you just jerked and scudded around furiously but ecstatically in the shallows, hardly fish-like at all. I didn't want to think of you yet swimming out to sea. Shrimps.

Did you notice the odd look in my eye? A perfectly innocent question, but there was something strange about it. You said, "Before I was born," not "we." Nick was still down at the water's edge with Mike. He came up so much higher against Mike now, and Mike's always been a good, lean height. Did you notice my little teeter? But I would have quickly smiled, I hope. I would have quickly got all wistful and girl-to-girl, if still motherly. I kept on rubbing you and I told you, you'll remember, about another beach, far away in Scotland, where, I said, your daddy "proposed" to me. In a sand dune, in fact.

That was eight years ago. Half your life. I could still dare to wear a bikini. It was one of those many panicky but smoothed-over moments—you'll understand soon what I mean—which have sometimes brought Mike and me to a sort of brink. Why not now? Oh, we've had our jitters. But we've kept to our schedule. It will be up to you, tomorrow, to judge, to tell us if, in the circumstances, you'd have done the same. But what a stupid idea: if you'd have done the same!

You said you'd like to propose to Nick—to practise proposing to Nick. I said it didn't tend to work that way round, and it was a thing, anyway, that belonged to "those old days." And suppose, I said, Nick should say no? My bikini was dark brown, your little costume was tangerine. It's men, I said, if it happens at all now, who do the proposing.

And sometimes the explaining. But I think you both deserve the full story from me, your mother. Mike will give you his story, his version. I mean, it won't be a story, it will be the facts, a story is what you've had so far. All the same, it will be a sort of version of something real. One thing we've learnt in these sixteen years is how hard it can be to tell what's true and what's false, what's real and what's pretend. It's one thing you'll have to decide, unfortunately. Which version is it to be?

At two o'clock in the morning. Of course, we let you know that. A charming little gloss on those facts of life that were bound to get raised sooner or later and can sometimes be (or they could be in those "old days") a cause of awkward Saturday mornings. Though hardly when you were barely three and first put the innocent question and were both completely enchanted, it seemed, to learn that you both came out of my tummy, that you'd both once been there together. And that seemed to be the bit—do you even remember?—that really tickled you pink, that you'd been there together. So much so that though you'd moved by then to your first little separate beds, it seemed to reinforce your obstinate habit of ending up nonetheless in the same one.

One morning I found you like that, trying to form a positive little single ball of clinging, squirming, not to say giggling flesh. And you said you were practising "not being born yet." And making, if it's possible to say so, a pretty good fist of it.

I should have said that it had tickled me pink once that you'd been there together inside me.

As to that other, critical question: how did you get there?—it never came up then. A stage before the stage of not being born yet, that was beyond your reckoning. But you should know that it was our first, unsteady, provisional position: that when it did come up it should be our guide, our testing of the way ahead for the other thing we had to tell you. It should even be, perhaps, the one and the same occasion. Except that when it did come up it was all at my rushing instigation, and you, Kate—this you'll surely remember—took the wind clean out of my sails.

Another girl-to-girl moment like that one about "proposing," and it can't have been so long after. I was the one, not your dad, who suddenly pushed myself to the fore of doing all the explaining. Though I would have started with the standard biology lesson. "Kate, there are some things you need to know . . . about how babies are really born . . ."

God knows what prompted it. Some little look in your eye, which I took as a challenge? Just that speed at which you were growing? What had we been talking about? And you might have let me just stumble on, even topple, still clutching you, over a precipice you were entirely unaware of. And if the truth be known, a sort of gong was banging in my head: Come on, get it over with! But you took the wind from my sails.

"You mean periods and stuff, Mum? You mean what boys have to do with their willies? It's all right, I already know all about that stuff. And don't worry, I've told Nick all about it as well."

How old were you? You seemed so blithely, safely sure of your ground that I no longer wanted to risk mine. And I'm not sure, to this day, if I ever want to intrude on those early biology lessons you would have given Nick. Your eyes met mine perfectly sunnily. Well, that takes care of that, I thought, that takes care of the facts of life and, until further notice, of the other facts that go with them.

It should all, perhaps, have worked the other way round. That happy well-informedness, apparently, of both of you, should only have let Mike and me press on with our full—agenda. But the fact is it was really then that we fell back on our default position: when they are sixteen. You were surely too young, then, for the full agenda. And, on the other hand, if those facts of life really were taken care of and weren't any more like some flashpoint still in store, did we need to hurry towards trouble?

Okay, you'll grasp this, I'm sure: it was to protect us, as well as you, to extend our sweet lease as much as yours. Will you be able to sympathise?


From the Hardcover edition.
Graham Swift

About Graham Swift

Graham Swift - Tomorrow

Photo © Ekko von Schwichow

GRAHAM SWIFT lives in London and is the author of nine novels, including: Waterland, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize and won The Guardian Fiction Award, the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, and the Italian Premio Grinzane Cavour; Ever After, which won the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger; Last Orders, which was awarded the Booker Prize; The Light of Day; and, most recently, Wish You Were Here.He is also the author of one other collection of short stories, Learning to Swim, and Making an Elephant, a collection of nonfiction pieces. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages.

Praise

Praise

“A writer of great range, vigor and acuity. . . . Evokes perfectly the circularities of a sleepless night.”
The New York Times Book Review

“An honest, sometimes funny, sometimes snort-aloud-true, tale of a woman's love for her family.”
The Hartford Courant

“The circular way Paula unwinds her story-less chronologically than thematically-told with the warmth of a woman talking to her adored children, is captivating.”
Portland Oregonian

"Swift's]talent shines through in his smooth prose and keen eye for detail.... Tomorrow provides a revealing look at one family's secrets and how they impact many lives, despite one's best efforts to manipulate the outcome."
Rocky Mountain News
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“A tour de force. . . . An ingenous piece of fiction.”
San Francisco Chronicle

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of Booker Prize–winning author Graham Swift's new novel, Tomorrow.

About the Guide

Graham Swift's extraordinary new novel is a tour de force of first-person narration. Told by Paula Hook on the eve of a revelation that she and her husband, Mike, will deliver to their sixteen-year-old twins, Tomorrow explores the potency of family secrets, their power to protect and potentially to destroy.

Paula's narrative, which is addressed, though entirely within her thoughts, to her children, is a mixture of anxiety about what the morning will bring, the joy and love she has felt with Mike, the complicated relationships she and her husband have both had with their own parents, and the luminous affection she feels for her children, Nick and Kate. Spanning several generations, the story she tells Nick and Kate will give them the context and history they will need to understand and, Paula hopes, to forgive the secret she has been keeping from them. Her narrative is a kind of testimony, and she often says that her children will “judge” their parents tomorrow. What she offers, perhaps to compensate for the years of deception, is a rare and total honesty. Paula explores her motives, both conscious and unconscious, with unflinching self-scrutiny and lays bare her emotional life to her children.

It is a testimony to Swift's own gifts as a storyteller that he can sustain the suspense while dispensing with some of the conventions of narrative fiction. For example, there is no dialogue except as it occurs in Paula's memory, no action that takes place except within Paula's narration. The novel instead follows the workings of one woman's mind during a sleepless night as she contemplates a revelation that may change the lives of everyone in her family. Where other writers might begin with the revelation, or spend a great deal of time exploring its consequences, Swift instead concentrates on what leads up to it. The novel is an investigation of consciousness unique in contemporary fiction, and perhaps in all of fiction, bringing the reader to a place where his or her own imagination must complete the story.

Written with the mastery that has characterized Graham Swift's work from the very beginning, Tomorrow is a story about one woman's anxious reflections on the eve of a life-changing event. But it is also a story about the power of storytelling itself—to conceal and reveal the truth, to comfort and enlighten both the teller and the listeners.

About the Author

Graham Swift lives in London and is the author of seven previous novels: The Sweet-Shop Owner; Shuttlecock, which received the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; Waterland, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Guardian Fiction Award, the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, and the Italian Premio Grinzane Cavour; Out of This World; Ever After, which won the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger; Last Orders, which was awarded the Booker Prize; and, most recently, The Light of Day. He is also the author of Learning to Swim, a collection of short stories. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages.

Discussion Guides

1. Tomorrow begins with the line, “You're asleep, my angels, I assume” [p. 3]. What is the effect of reading a narrative that is addressed, specifically, to someone else? Why might Graham Swift have chosen this narrative structure? How would the effect of the novel be different if it were addressed to a different audience?

2. Why have Paula and Mike Hook decided to wait until their children are sixteen to reveal a secret they have kept for the twins' entire lives?

3. How are Kate and Nick likely to react to the news they are to receive just after the novel ends? Are there clues in the novel that suggest how they will receive the revelation about their father?

4. Paula often remarks that she expects to be judged by her children. How should Kate and Nick judge their parents? How should readers of the novel judge them? Has their sixteen-year-long deception been a responsible or a selfish choice, in your opinion?

5. Tomorrow is an unusual novel in that it consists of the buildup to an event—the revelation—that readers do not get to witness. What is the effect of anticipating but never realizing this scene? Is it frustrating? Or is it, in fact, more satisfying not to know, for sure, what happens? Why might Swift have chosen to leave his novel open-ended?

6. Why does Paula feel it is important to tell Nick and Kate so much about their family history? What qualities of feeling emerge most powerfully from her story?

7. How is Swift able to create such suspense and interest in the absence of certain traditional narrative devices, such as including more than one character's point of view? What does he gain through this unique form?

8. How does Swift so convincingly inhabit the voice and consciousness of his female narrator, Paula? What aspects of a woman's and of a mother's way of thinking and feeling does he represent especially vividly?

9. There are aspects of both comedy and tragedy in Paula's story. What are some of the ways in which she draws out the humor and the sadness of various situations?

10. Tomorrow is very particularly about one family, but in what ways is it about all families?

11. Why does Paula sleep with the veterinarian? Do the motives she herself gives for doing so make sense? Why would she confess this now, to her children and her husband?

12. Paula asks, “And isn't it the point, or one of the points, of this bedtime story, you must be thinking, to underscore the proposition, never mind proposals, that this man lying here and me were always meant for each other, as they say? We were meant to be. And would you yourselves, who have such an intimate interest in the matter, have written the story differently?” [p. 79]. Why do you think this is one of the main points Paula wants to make? Why does she call her story a “bedtime story”? How might her children have written it differently?

13. What does Paula's story reveal about the generational differences and cultural changes that have taken place since the era of her parents up to the era of her children?

14. What does the novel suggest about how we deal with mortality as well as birth? How does this relate to Paula's—and our own—thinking about the future?

15. Do you think these characters are happy? Why, or why not? Is happiness important to them?

16. Why do you think Swift chose to make Nick and Kate twins? How does this impact the family dynamic? How is being a twin similar to or different from being part of a romantic couple? And how does coupledom affect one's personal identity?

17. Paula works for an art dealer, and Mike is a biologist. How do the worlds of art and science tie in to the themes of the book?

18. Paula ends her story, as day is dawning and rain falling, by saying: “Some little bedraggled bird I can't identify, which no doubt has a nest somewhere which is getting drenched too, is singing its heart out. Perhaps I'm wrong, but sometimes mothers can just tell things. In any case, they only want the best for their children” [p. 255]. In what ways can these final sentences be read? Do they say more than they seem to be saying? Why might Swift end the novel in this way?

Suggested Readings

Renate Dorrestein, A Heart of Stone; Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach; Jacquelyn Mitchard, The Deep End of the Ocean; Joyce Carol Oates, We Were the Mulvaneys; Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero; Ann Packer, Songs Without Words.

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