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Waterland

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  4,311 ratings  ·  294 reviews
Set in the bleak Fen Country of East Anglia, and spanning some 240 years in the lives of its haunted narrator and his ancestors, Waterland is a book that takes in eels and incest, ale-making and madness, the heartless sweep of history and a family romance as tormented as any in Greek tragedy.
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published November 19th 1996 by Macmillan _ (first published 1983)
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Community Reviews

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Jessica
Waterland, published in 1983, is a semi-postmodern examination of the end of History, the trajectory of the promise of the Enlightenment. It is set in the 80's, but looks backwards through history, centering around 1943. It has three different plots: in the 40's, when the narrator Tom is a teenager, it tells of the death of another teenage boy and of the consequences of fooling around with curious Catholic schoolgirls (it sort of screams "DON'T HAVE PREMARITAL SEX! PREMARITAL SEX HAS HORRIBLE PH ...more
Laura
This may be one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. A lot of my favorite books, some of which I enjoyed even more than this one, have some combination of good plots, good themes, or good characters, but the quality of the writing leaves something to be desired. This is one of those novels that is so expertly crafted that it makes you remember what great writing is. The premise of a history teacher who is about to involuntarily retire due to the principal's decision to eliminate ...more
Giedre
After Rushdie‘s “The Moor’s Last Sigh” I could only expect that another family saga will end up in my hands: "Waterland" by Graham Swift. It was my first plunge into Swift’s waters, and I hope that it won't be the last one. I only regret reading Waterland in Lithuanian instead of its original language, and I will not know until I pick up the next book by Swift if my four stars should be attributed to my not fully identifying with the author’s voice or the translator’s.

Waterland is a story about
...more
David
Mar 14, 2008 David rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: incestuous dracunculophiles
Like the countryside in which it is set, I recall this book as being grey, depressing, and sodden. I can't recall a thing that I learned from it - all I remember is the enormous sense of relief I had once I managed to finish it.

Though, as the blurb helpfully point out, there are eels and incest.
Soumen Daschoudhury
May 26, 2014 Soumen Daschoudhury rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who are looking for good storytelling
Shelves: the-best, 2014-reads
Tom Crick, now a history teacher, is forced into retirement due to an unfortunate and ghastly act committed by his wife. Why?

Tom Crick asks and seeks answers to a lot of why’s because history rides uncomfortably behind that very word, that very monosyllabic question – why?
It has a strong and veritable bearing on today, this history, the past, that incident; incidents. It shapes, shakes, cautions, humiliates, and intimidates – this history.

Would the gory chapters of the French revolution prove ha
...more
Aubrey
Yes, there's eels. Yes, there's incest. But more importantly, there's a subtle flow of history, back and forth across the pages from the French Revolution to the nuclear days of WWII. Lessons learned from the trials and tribulations of the Crick family can easily be applied to the great events of world history, and history itself is shown to be an irresistible constant of useless baggage wrapped around dire foretelling. The world is racing to improve itself at such speeds as to dash itself acros ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
The uniqueness of this novel is in its narrative voice, that of a history professor, so it has a pedantic feel to it, like a long series of lectures (as, indeed, some scenes take place in a classroom). The main action, where the narrator grew up, is a kind of place I have not actually seen, which here is called the Fens, and which in my imagination are but swamps expanded into acres upon acres. It's basically a family history spanning more than two centuries with its quirky characters, its trage ...more
Laura
This is the story of Tom Crick, a history teacher, who tries to find the real meaning of life.

The movie based on this book
Waterland (1992)
is so good as the book.

Stars: Jeremy Irons, Sinéad Cusack, Ethan Hawke among others

Kim
What is it about Swift's writing that I find so haunting? Nearly all of his novels are about a middle-aged man in an existential crisis, and yet I find them deeply, arrestingly relatable even as a young, happy lady. It might be his concise sentence structure, or it might be his ability to, at the end of the story, connect all the small moments and rush them toward the reader in a fast, breathtaking wave until finally leaving a brisk declaration of The Point of Everything in the wake, like a brok ...more
Holly
I really loved this the first two or three times I read it--I even saw the movie adaptation with Jeremy Irons, which wasn't very good. But then I reread it 15 years later, and thought it was insufferably pretentious.

John Irving read it too--I am convinced he ripped off elements of this book for "A Prayer for Owen Meany," which was based mostly on "The Scarlet Letter" and is a piece of shit.
Denis
Waterland may be the most intelligent book I have ever read. It is a mystery, a novel, a history or eeling and beer making on the fens and a romance. Graham swift is one of the best writers in English and this books is just way better than his other excellent stuff.
Seth Rogovoy
I cannot say enough about how great this book is - truly a modern classic. Graham Swift's "Waterland" blends the innovative use of language of James Joyce; the multilayered, obsessive attention to detail of Herman Melville; the philosophical underpinnings of Dostoevsky; the epic historical sweep of Salman Rushdie and Tolstoy; the engrossing arc of a family's rise and fall of Faulkner; the page-turning, intricately plotted suspense of Stephen King; all tied up neatly in what amounts to a history ...more
Alex
This was an outstanding read for me, from an author who has absolute, complete command over language, plot, and moving a story through dialogue. There were times during which I wanted to quit being a writer, while reading this novel. Swift remains for me a master of the English language. This novel weaved history so incredibly well, with human emotion. I'll have more on this book in my review at The Lit Pub. The piece is written but it's not scheduled to run until beginning of March. Will includ ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
There are times (they come around really quite often) when good dry textbook history takes a plunge into the old swamps of myth and has to be retrieved with empirical fishing lines. History, being an accredited sub-science, only wants to know the facts. History, if it is to keep on constructing its road into the future, must do so on solid ground. At all costs let us avoid mystery-making and speculations, secrets and idle gossip. And, for God's sake, nothing supernatural. And above, all let us n
...more
Ruth
C1983: This book won the Guardian fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I am now certain that I am a philistine. Whilst relishing the truly wonderful use of the English language, the continuing philosophical asides, whilst serving a purpose, really started to become draining towards the end. (Excuse the pun!) Very little dialogue with the narrative playing the larger role. The characters were brilliantly drawn and the family history eye opening. Of course, we all know what goes ...more
Andy
"Waterland" is a book I think I will quickly forget. The place is perhaps what will stay with me the most. The author, Swift, clearly did quite a bit of research on English waterways & the historical relevance of inner-waterway travel & commerce in 19th century England. So that was different. And there is also a weird relationship between nature & the people that inhabit this place that was mildly intriguing, although I never really put my finger on what that connection means for the ...more
Mike
A fascinating book for those who are on the lookout for new books is "The Harvard Guide To Influential Books" (1986) --- the subtitle of the book is "113 Eminent Harvard Professors Discuss The Books That Have Shaped Their Thinking" --- the book is edited by C. Maury Devine, Claudia M. Dissel, and Kim D. Parrish.

Each participating professor, when listing his or her influential books, has written a little blurb about the book and how it affected his or her thinking.

Most of the entries are about no
...more
Erika
If I could only have five books with me on a desert island, this would be one of them. It's got everything--madness, arson, alemaking, incest, the claiming of land by technology and its reclamation by the sea, and the French Revolution. Plus a lyrical, fairytale-like tone. No other book I've read explores the relationship between geography and the history of a people better than this one. What more could you want? Swift was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for this novel and won it for Last Orde ...more
Jen
Waterland is a complex novel set in the England’s Fens. The main plot centers on the life and history of narrator Tom Crick. Tom is a middle-aged history teacher who is dealing with his wife’s recent mental breakdown and a school department that no longer values his contributions. Every day he stands in front of a class of teenagers who care little about the past. He abandons his curriculum to tell his class stories about the Fens and about his own life. Tom’s stories revolve around two periods: ...more
Rob
This is a book that broke my heart, but added some interesting new valves in the process. It's best consumed by wolfing it down, then going back and reading it again, lingeringly and slow.

It also changed, and still colors, my understanding of history (I have two books in this category -- Waterland and War & Peace... this one's a better read, of course). That will likely sound painfully dull to you, unless you have read this book, in which case you'll probably know what I mean.
Meg Buscemi
Nothing was more humiliating than when I had to share this book with a boy in my English book, after I had dropped it in the bathtub and was unable to sufficiently dry it before class. The boy said, "I know it's called Waterland, but did you have to read it, while immersed in water?"
Sense of  History
It might be strange to find a novel amidst my history books, but in fact this novel, perhaps even more than a dull nonfictionbook, examines the conditions and limitations of historical writing. In short it is the story of a history teacher about to be sacked by his school supervisor after some dramatic incident in his life. The teacher, in a recurrent dialogue with his pupils, tells the story of his life and the traumatic events that have shaped his youth, framing it into a narrative on his fami ...more
David
This is a hugely ambitious novel. The format of a history teacher addressing his class (this allows him to be slightly theatrical in his delivery) doesn't always come off, sometimes it reads a little slow, but the overall result is something quite awesome. This is not the author's style from his prizewinning "Last Orders" or his latest "Wish You Here". These are pretty mainstream in comparison. "Waterland" is far more philosophical about the importance of history, and about the nature and effect ...more
Mark
Waterland brilliantly chronicles the mid-life crisis of high school history teacher Tom Crick, who makes sense of his life by placing his difficulties in the context of the lessons he teaches about the French Revolution. And what are his difficulties? His wife has gone mad and kidnapped a stranger’s baby from a supermarket, which lands her in a psychiatric hospital; his school is cutting its History Department, forcing him into early retirement; and his students, led by the rebellious teenager P ...more
Alison
Read this book 25 years ago and loved it; curious to see how much I've changed, along with the general taste, in 25 years! It's not that I don't love it anymore, it's a classic in its way, but it's amazing to see how dense and wordy the text is, almost baroque or what we'd call overwritten nowadays, and yet it is a great story and a great way to tell a story. Swift's recent books have been so spare, it's hard to imagine it's the same author. Haven't finished yet, am waiting to see how it evolves ...more
Guilie
My first Graham Swift and I'm a fan. The story, certainly; incest, murder, love. But HOW it's brought is what distinguishes this from mere good storytelling, what makes it brilliant. A middle-aged teacher of history gets sacked. Why? Well, it seems his wife has gone and stolen a child. A baby. Asking Why now--and that's a cornerstone theme here, the Whywhywhy that characterizes human curiosity and, therefore, history--opens up a can of worms (or, more aptly, a heirloom bottle of beer) that harks ...more
Will
Aug 09, 2013 Will rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: ebook
This is a long book, and not one of Graham Swift’s best. Tom Crick is a history teacher who is getting the boot; the novel, which shifts back and forth through the Victorian and earlier, WW2 and current eras is told in an oratorical, rhetorical style by Tom to his class. (“Now let me tell you a story ...”). Initially the effect is hypnotic and compellingly dream-like, as the parallel threads of Tom’s ancestors, his youth and his present problems are spun out, all in the present tense. But the re ...more
Lorraine
Sometimes it's not only the book, but when you read the book. Sometimes, you pick up the book just when it has the most relevance to you. Synchronicity. I bought this years ago, at a booksale, and only picked it up this year. It is brilliantly constructed, but that isn't my point. I suppose normally I would've found it sort of soggy and slow, but at this particular point in time I found it more than sublime. It hit me. Somehow it just dealt with everything that I was fighting with, narrative, hi ...more
Kate
This is a well-written story that resembles the show "Connections" where, in explaining a single moment in time, a hundred others are alluded to, illuminated, examined, and given a purpose. The basic story is that of a lock-keeper's sun who grows up in the English Fens on the reclaimed land of the Wash ("where everything comes out"). In telling it the author makes it not only necessary but pleasurable to delve into centuries worth of local history and touch on such topics as making barley into m ...more
Katie Grainger
Waterland is a beautiful, haunting novel which follows through the past and present the life of Tom Crick. Tom is a history teacher, who suffering a crisis in the present tells the reader about his past, growing up in the Fens and as a result his family history.

In the present Tom is suffering, he is being forced into early retirement, his wife has stolen a baby from Safeway and as a result has been hospitalized. Tom goes back in time and uses his and his wife's personal history to explain to the
...more
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Graham Colin Swift FRSL (born May 4, 1949) is a British author. He was born in London, England and educated at Dulwich College, London, Queens' College, Cambridge, and later the University of York. He was a friend of Ted Hughes.

Some of his works have been made into films, including Last Orders, which starred Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins and Waterland which starred Jeremy Irons. Last Orders was a
...more
More about Graham Swift...
Last Orders The Light of Day Wish You Were Here Tomorrow Ever After

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“Children, be curious. Nothing is worse (I know it) than when curiosity stops. Nothing is more repressive than the repression of curiosity. Curiosity begets love. It weds us to the world. It's part of our perverse, madcap love for this impossible planet we inhabit. People die when curiosity goes. People have to find out, people have to know.” 45 likes
“That's the way it is: life includes a lot of empty space. We are one-tenth living tissue, nine-tenths water; life is one-tenth Here and Now, nine-tenths a history lesson. For most of the time the Here and Now is neither now nor here.” 11 likes
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