A Washington Post Notable Work of Fiction
On an autumn day in 2006, on the Isle of Wight, Jack Luxton—once a Devon farmer, now the proprietor of a seaside caravan park—receives the news that his brother, Tom, not seen for years, has been killed in combat in Iraq. For Jack and his wife, Ellie, this will have unexpected, far-reaching effects. For Jack in particular it means a crucial journey: to receive his brother’s remains and to confront his most secret, troubling memories.
A hauntingly intimate, deeply compassionate story about things that touch and test our human core, Wish You Were Here also looks, inevitably, to a wider, afflicted world. Moving toward a fiercely suspenseful climax, it brilliantly transforms the stuff of headlines into a heart-wrenching personal truth.
Excerpted from Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift. Copyright © 2012 by Graham Swift. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Graham Swift lives in London and is the author of eight previous novels: The Sweet-Shop Owner; Shuttlecock, which received the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; 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; Out of This World; 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, Tomorrow. He is also the author of Learning to Swim, a collection of short stories, and Making an Elephant, a non-fiction book. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages.
“An extraordinary novel, the work of an artist with profound insight into human nature and the mature talent to deliver it.” —The Washington Post
“Exquisite. . . . Beautifully made…[an] abundance of subtlety, tenderness and fluid prose.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Vivid, emotionally raw . . . Swift is a writer who clearly revels in dialogue and nuance. . . . Thoughtful and sensitive.” —The Boston Globe
“Mr. Swift's writing is as strong as ever, recalling the descriptive beauty of his highly acclaimed Waterland and Booker Award-winning Last Orders.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“As every truly great novelist does, in this new book, [Swift] demonstrates that perfect coordination between style and story. . . . [A] honed and driven story. Honestly, I can’t remember when I cared so passionately about how a novel might end.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Jamesian in sensibility and to some degree in style, [Swift] finds tragedy in the most ordinary conversation. . . . . You forget how piercing this sort of thing can be until you see Swift doing it so well, and with such patience. The depth of field in a Swift novel, thematically and emotionally, is vast. At his best, he suggests that looking intently at the smallest, most mundane thing can yield a glimpse into the meaning of life.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A rich, stereoscopic portrait of the book’s hero, Jack Luxton. . . . Swift knows that in reality we occupy a wealth of experiences, past and present, mundane and memorable. His strength in this fine novel is showing how all those experiences inescapably collide within us. As he puts it, "the place known as 'away from it all' simply doesn't exist." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Heart-wrenching and gripping, Swift’s novel takes one man’s grief and uses it as a prism for the suffering of an entire nation.” —Mail on Sunday
“Part ghost story, part whodunit, part tour d’horizon of a nation that seems to have lost faith in tradition and history, it is also a deeply human tale about a man driven to the edge. Praise be for a serious novel that dares to look current affairs in the face.” —The Times (London)
“One of Swift’s most accomplished works yet. . . . A writerly novel that pushes us deep into the writer’s craft. . . . That Swift should be considered among the ranks of the literary greats is surely no longer in doubt.” —Culture Mob
“Magnificent . . . This is a substantial work, but not a sentence too long . . . Unafraid of emotion, though without a moment of sentimentality, Swift brilliantly conveys the confusion of a man and wife trapped by their unspoken fears.” —Sunday Herald (Scotland)
“With unmistakable echoes of Thomas Hardy and E.M. Forster. . . . He exercises a compelling mastery of tone and trajectory. . . . Emotionally gripping.” —The Times Literary Supplement
1. “Wish you were here” is a powerful phrase in the novel. Why is it so significant?
2. Jack says, “…cattle aren’t people, that’s a fact” (p. 4). But in what ways in the novel are cattle like people, or vice versa?
3. What parallels can you draw between Jack and Tom and the earlier pair of Luxton brothers?
4. “To become the proprietor of the very opposite thing to that deep-rooted farmhouse. Holiday homes, on wheels.” (p. 29) What is Swift telling us through Jack’s observation?
5. What does their Caribbean holiday symbolize to Ellie? To Jack?
6. Did Jack really want to leave Devon, ten years earlier? If Ellie hadn’t suggested the Isle of Wight, what do you think might have happened?
7. Before they move, Jack sells the ancestral Luxton cradle, but keeps the shotgun and the medal. Why?
8. Madness comes up again and again—mad-cow disease, the madness of war, the possibility that Jack has gone mad. What point is Swift making?
9. Time shifts frequently over the course of the novel, hopscotching across decades. How does Swift use these shifts to expand and deepen the story?
10. Why does Ellie refuse to accompany Jack back to Devon?
11. Why is putting down Luke such a pivotal act for Tom and Jack?
12. What do we learn when Swift shifts from Jack’s point of view to others’—Major Richards’s, the hearse driver’s, Bob Ireton’s? What do we learn from the brief section told from Tom’s perspective?
13. At several points, Swift writes extended hypothetical passages—what might have happened if one character had said or done something slightly different. What effect does this have? How does it help to fully form the characters?
14. How does the Robinsons’ transformation of Jebb Farm work as a metaphor for twenty-first-century life?
15. “. . . anyone (including the owners of Jebb Farmhouse, had they been in occupation) might have seen two hand-prints on the top rail, one either side of the black-lettered name.” (p. 267) What do Jack’s hand-prints symbolize?
16. “Security” means different things to the Luxtons and the Robinsons. Which definition do you think Swift endorses?
17. What does the medal represent? What does it mean when Jack tosses it into the sea?
18. Does Tom really believe Ellie had a hand in Jimmy’s death? Why does he say it?
19. Tom’s ghost plays a major role in the novel’s final scene. What does he represent?