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Graham Swift Biography

(1949– ), The Sweetshop Owner, Shuttlecock, Learning to Swim, Waterland, Out of This World, Ever After

British novelist, born in London, educated at the University of East Anglia. His first novel, The Sweetshop Owner (1980), was followed by the psychological thriller Shuttlecock (1981; Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, 1983), which traces the narrator's gradual discovery of the truth about his father's wartime past; and by a collection of short stories, many of them with a London setting, Learning to Swim (1982). In 1983, Swift was one of those chosen as the Best Young British Novelists by the Book Marketing Council. His novel Waterland (1983), a study of an obsessional relationship, set in the East Anglian Fenlands, was widely acclaimed for its detailed recreation of the Norfolk landscape and for its skill at conveying disturbed states of mind. Narrated by a middle-aged history teacher, Tom Crick, it describes the traumatic events which took place many years before in his boyhood home, and incorporates reflections on a wide variety of subjects, including the French Revolution, the history of the East Anglian drainage system, the life-cycle of the eel, and the development of brewing techniques. Out of This World (1988) consists of three linked narratives: that of Harry Beech, a war photographer, his daughter Sophie, and his war-hero father, murdered by terrorists in front of his son and granddaughter. Ever After (1992) is narrated in the first person by a middle-aged academic, Bill Unwin, whose account of his own life, ranging from post-war Greece to 1950s Soho, is interspersed with details of the life of his Victorian ancestor, Matthew Pearce, pieced together from notebooks. In Last Orders (1996) the friends of Jack Dobbs, a Bermondsey butcher, honour his last request by scattering his ashes on the sea at Margate. During their car journey through Rochester, Chatham and Canterbury, the characters (a second-hand-car dealer, an insurance clerk, a fruit and vegetable trader) tell their very different stories. The novel demonstrates great technical skill in its use of alternate narrators and confirms Swift's reputation as a consistently accomplished writer, most at ease when he is exploring the intricacies of psychological motivation, but also displaying an acute sensitivity towards details of place and atmosphere. Apart from his fiction, Swift has also co-edited (with David Profumo) The Magic Wheel: An Anthology of Fishing in Literature (1985).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: St Juliot Cornwall to Rabindranath Tagore Biography