Out of This World Summary
by Graham Swift

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Out of This World

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Reminiscent of George Bernard Shaw’s MAJOR BARBARA, though lacking the play’s satirical wit and humor, OUT OF THIS WORLD is the story of Harry Beech’s falling out with his father Robert, the hereditary owner of Beech Munitions; Harry refuses to assume control of the company upon his father’s retirement because he has a moral aversion to war and its instruments. This is also the story of Sophie (nee Beech) Carmichael’s estrangement from Harry, her father, who she seldom saw when she was growing up and living with Grandpa Beech, as Harry seemed always away on field assignments in war zones as a photojournalist. Sophie’s mother--Harry’s wife--was killed in a plane crash in Greece when Sophie was five years old; Harry’s mother died giving birth to him.

Not only do the father and daughter have the losses of their mothers in common, but both also spend much time tracing and retracing the gulfs between themselves and their fathers. Yet while a reconciliation between Harry and Sophie seems likely at the novel’s end, one between Harry and his father can only occur within the son; ten years before the narrative’s present, Robert Beech is killed in a bombing by terrorists.

Thirty-three chapters here are told in Harry’s voice or Sophie’s, one is told from the viewpoint of Sophie’s simple husband, Joe, and one from the viewpoint of Harry’s long-dead wife, Anna. Neither Joe’s nor Anna’s chapters belong in the novel, and neither lends any depth or illumination to the two central characters in their stories. In fact, Anna’s is a posthumous performance by a woman who, like her daughter Sophie, has nothing engaging or memorable to say.