Synopses & Reviews
From the prizewinning author of the acclaimed Last Orders, The Light of Day,
, a powerfully moving new novel set in present-day England, but against the background of a global "war on terror" and about things that touch our human core.
On an autumn day in 2006, on the Isle of Wight, Jack Luxton--once a 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. The news will have its far-reaching effects for Jack and his wife, Ellie, and compel Jack to make a crucial journey: to receive his brother's remains, but also to return to the land of his past and of his most secret, troubling memories. A gripping, hauntingly intimate, and compassionate story that moves toward a fiercely suspenseful climax, Wish You Were Here translates the stuff of headlines into heartwrenching personal truth.
"Swift's stunning new novel (after Light of Day) begins with deceptive slowness, detailing the lives of Jack and Ellie, the English husband-and-wife proprietors of a trailer park on the Isle of Wight. Jack and his brother Tom grew up on a dairy farm, but after mad cow disease decimates the livestock, their father commits suicide and the brothers grow apart Tom enlists and goes off to fight in Iraq, while Jack and Ellie built a happy, if quiet, existence. But when a letter from the Ministry of Defence arrives addressed to the old farm and rerouted 'by someone with a long memory' to the Isle of Wight Jack learns that the burden of repatriating his brother's remains has fallen on his shoulders, a responsibility that will cause Jack to confront the complexities of 'life and all its knowledge,' and the sheltering peace of death. Swift (Last Orders) creates an elegant rawness with language that carries the reader through several layers of Jack's consciousness at once his lonely past, his uncertain future, and the ways in which his father and his brother both refuse to leave him alone, despite how long they've been gone. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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 heart-wrenching personal truth.
About the Author
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 nonfiction book. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Wish You Were Here, Booker Prize–winning author Graham Swift’s latest novel.
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” (page 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.” (page 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.” (page 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?