Saturday 29 February 2020


Here We Are by Graham Swift   
Here we are, but are we? Graham Swift’s novel is set upon the stage — the show stage. Illusion and magic, secrets and mystery, and disillusionment tinged with disloyalty. The scene opens and the stage curtain parts to reveal a man in the wings: Jack Robinson — compère and born entertainer — awaiting the push from the hand of his now absent mother. Yet this man’s bravado will hide another self and reveal over time other selves — not that we will learn too much about this, except through the reminiscences of his widow, Evie White. Evie — one-time show girl (ostrich feather plumes and tiara) and the famously distracting assistant to the magician Pablo. It’s 1959, and on Brighton Pier the summer holiday season is in full swing. Pablo and Eve are shoring up the audiences and their names are rising in the billing order. On stage and off, the act is developing. 'Pablo' is Ronnie Deane, aspiring magician, lad from Bethnal Green — the son of a missing seaman and charwoman — with a past he would rather forget. But, unlike many, it is the war that saved Ronnie. Eight years old, he is bundled onto a train with other evacuees and carried away from London to Oxford and a completely different life: the Lawrences, who take him in, will be his ‘parents’ for the duration of the war, and this experience will mark him out for a life on stage, as well as an unrelenting sense of guilt towards his own mother, Agnes — a guilt which he will find difficult to resolve. The theme of mothers runs through this novel. Evie, Ronnie and Jack all have their mother issue ,and Mrs Lawrence is haunted by her own motherlessness. Swift gently allows us to see the truths between the folds of the curtain, subtly rather than explicitly. Guilt and betrayal along with subterfuge and intrigue are the main players on the stage and in the wings. The taut and close relationship between Ronnie and Jack, and later the third pivot in this saga, Evie, will have consequences that not one of them would have foreseen, and the greatest illusion will take place in the final scene. Swift’s writing is superb, not one word is unnecessary, and the seemingly straightforward story of a child evacuee, the diminishing romance with live entertainment acts in the 1950s, and the complex pressures of relationships between parents and their children, is wonderfully underplayed and fittingly revealing beneath the smoke and mirrors and distractions of the illusion — deception at its best.
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