When I first began reading this novel by Graham Swift, I wanted to go through each page as fast as I could. But when I reached the final chapter, I went back and read it again a few times, since I couldn’t believe that was the end. I just loved the book, it’s easy to read and has a catchy plot.
The main narrative follows detective George Webb, in a profound reflection on a few of his cases, as well as his personal life and the way the two blend. There is of course a love story (or rather a few), but it is hard to tell if any of them have a happy ending. The book also deals with the abstract theme of deprivation, which is explored in a couple of secondary plot lines. Every character is stuck in his own circumstances or reality, without the possibility to escape, and those secondary plots are captivating and make the novel a delightful read.
The main character is also the narrative voice in the book, and it is very interesting to follow his self-reflections on his life and the decisions he’s made. Former cop, now private investigator, he is mostly hired by women wanting to unravel details of the affairs their husbands are having. He eventually falls in love with one of his clients, Sarah, and it is revealed early on in the book that she might have been responsible for a cold blooded murder. George visits her in prison and obsessively tries to help her feel hope (to see the light), and to convince her there could still be a future for her, even for the two of them together.
It hadn’t occurred to me that someone in law enforcement, who is bound to protect people, could ever be in love with someone who’s committed a crime, and the controversial nature of this choice makes the reader overthink the implications.
Whenever I finish a book, there’s always something that sticks to mind, and when I later reflect on that book, I first of all recall that specific idea. Thinking back on Swift’s novel, I’ll always remember the secondary story of George’s parents. I found it surprising and sad at the same time.
There are many other scenes that struck me by their unexpected turn. One of the most important ones is when George visits Sarah in prison, right after he’s stopped by her husband’s grave. He goes to lay flowers next to the tombstone in her stead, because that’s what she would have done on that day had she been free. The unexpected setup as well as the details of how he feels about his visit to her, which seems like he’s stepping into another world, makes the scene extraordinary. He experiences conflicting feelings when the visit ends and he has to go. It makes him appreciate life outside prison more, while at the same time saddening him, since he has to leave without her, dreaming of the day when they’ll finally leave that place together.
Swift crafts and embeds important details in the narrative, for example in the fascinating cooking scene, which got me to order “coq au vin” for dinner when we travelled to Paris afterwards, or the scene about the fine food section at the supermarket. The author manages to imprint such level of detail and realism even to the otherwise trivial scenes of George driving in London’s suburbs, that the book feels almost as vivid as seeing it on screen, while also maintaining such a captivating pace that the reader doesn’t notice when turning the pages.
Regarding characters, I don’t particularly like any of them, but I do find them interesting. They all have both qualities and defects, but the way in which they are described makes it easy for the reader to understand and root for them, even for those with negative traits. After one of the main characters kills someone, thus switching from victim to criminal, I didn’t necessarily dislike them, I was just surprised that the story didn’t turn out the way I assumed. The main character is definitely the most complex, and he analyzes and anticipates each turn and every moment, but he still misses important details when his feelings are involved.
The author, Graham Colin Swift, is an English writer and a Booker Prize winner, and is most known for other novels written before The Light of Day. This is the first book written by him that I stumbled upon, and the reading experience is amazing. Even if I already know the story, I could read this book again and again, if nothing else, than for the way the words are put together on the page. The story is actually revealed or can be deducted from the very first chapter, but the novel is addictive and I just couldn’t let the book out of my hands.
The Light of Day