Critical Context

Graham Swift has enjoyed quick recognition as one of the finest of a new generation of contemporary British novelists. Shuttlecock was awarded the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and Waterland (1983), a novel that reinvests the past with symbolic richness and power, was nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize. Swift is concerned in his work to reveal the possibilities for self-discovery in worlds that resist such efforts: While the narrator of Shuttlecock is, metaphorically, buried under piles of paper, the protagonist of Waterland is so overwhelmed by the forces of the natural world that personality is in danger of being consumed by nature. Swift appears to be a master of style as he shifts from the banality and flatness of Shuttlecock to the Iyricism and moodiness of Waterland: In both cases, there is a serious reflection on “knowledge” in several senses and on the human desire both to repress and to uncover what may be known. Like two British novelists of an older generation, John Fowles and William Golding, Swift creates fictive worlds replete with the uncertainties of modern existence and containing protagonists who, for better or worse, seek out whatever certainties lie therein.