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3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,510 Ratings  ·  392 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.
Unknown Binding, 368 pages
Published December 4th 1997 by MacMillan (first published 1983)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 26, 2007 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-fiction
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
Apr 01, 2013 Laura rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 14, 2008 David rated it it was ok
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.
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
Soumen Daschoudhury
May 26, 2014 Soumen Daschoudhury rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Sep 21, 2008 Kim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, school-reads
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
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
Greg Z
Jul 22, 2016 Greg Z rated it it was amazing
From Tim Binding's introduction: "Waterland has the appearance of a magnificent engine, a shining and brilliant marvel of construction. It has its oiled wheels, its cogs, its ratchets, its levers. It breathes power." The book jacket claims this is an "extraordinary masterpiece." Overstated praise? No, this one is a beauty. And to think I simply pulled this off a shelf at the library, as I often look for books I've never heard of by authors unknown to me. Bothersome to realize the possibility of ...more
Apr 11, 2009 Holly rated it it was ok
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.
Jun 19, 2016 Bruce added it
Graham Swift’s novel, Waterland, is a hypnotic and creative tale taking place in East Anglia, in the Fen Country– flat, wet, seemingly unchanging except for the inevitable and ungovernable fluctuations of nature. The narrative traces two and a half centuries in the lives of a few families, weaving a tapestry of routine and crises, generational maturation and passing, overlaid upon a framework of actual world history. Frequent flashbacks, tantalizingly left incomplete, create an atmosphere of dis ...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
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

Mar 19, 2016 J.M. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Amphibian-Americans
"Children, there's this thing called civilisation. It's built of hopes and dreams. It's only an idea. It's not real. It's artificial. No one ever said it was real. It's not natural, no one ever said it was natural. It's built by the learning process; by trial and error. It breaks easily. No one ever said it couldn't fall to bits. And no one ever said it would last for ever."

When I add a book to my 'pessimism' shelf, after having finished it, I probably enjoyed it. This isn't always the case, but
Apr 02, 2009 Denis rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 03, 2010 Seth Rogovoy rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 06, 2012 Ruth rated it it was ok
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
Jan 07, 2008 Andy rated it it was ok
"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
Nick Davies
Yep, I get it. The protagonist/narrator is a History teacher, and is hence all tied up in wanting to explain everything in terms of putting them in their historical context. For me though there was far, far, too much meandering, sleepy, irrelevant setting and barely any actual plot whatsoever.

I've read authors/books of this ilk before - modern British literature with a personal mystery surrounding a tragedy, all teased out over the course of several hundred pages. Some of these haven't really wo
Mark Joyce
The Norwich, Gildsey, Peterborough railway was introduced primarily as a passenger service but, by enabling cheap freight transportation, also contributed to the emergence of rail as the principal artery of agricultural trade in mid-nineteenth century East Anglia, overtaking inland waterways, with radical implications for the region’s economy and socio-political fabric.

If you struggled to get to the end of that sentence then Waterland may not be for you, as it’s basically hundreds and hundreds
Jul 13, 2014 Peter rated it really liked it
“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.”

Tom Crick is a history teacher about to be sacked because of something that his wife has done and because both his students and the school Head cannot see the relevance of the topic in today's world. So he decides to abandon the syllabus and instead tell his class
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
Jun 22, 2009 Erika rated it it was amazing
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
May 08, 2007 Rob rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 09, 2016 Venuskitten rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written novel set in the Fens, describing a family saga across generations and changing lives against a backdrop of two World Wars. Through it all, the Fens are almost a character in the plot.

The author includes the story of the Fens - how they were formed - as well as the story of pillars of industry who built waterways and breweries across the land, but whose wealth also concealed tragedies and dark secrets. The story is told by Tom Crick, whose family has been part of t
Jason Alexander
Sep 23, 2015 Jason Alexander rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Where do we draw the line between history and stories? A personal history, the story or one's family, the study of what brought you to your present state and situation - history? stories? A search for answers will always lead backwards, and sometimes what you find is not pleasant; perhaps at times not knowing is best.

Gothic family drama flutters back in forth through the life of history teacher protagonist, Tom Crick, and back through the history of his family and the flat Fens countryside that
Jul 01, 2016 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: all-time-toplist
Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight) named this as one of his foundational works, so of course I had to read it.

Graham Swift has a way with words, a certain lilting singsong verse (albeit more in the Ring Around the Rosie sense than the Row, Row, Row Your Boat one), albeit not a children's ditty but more a slow-burning, stylishly executed requiem. And this is, truly, grandmaster-level technicality; the jazz of John Coltrane.

Now if my teachers had explained history like old
Meg Buscemi
Dec 05, 2008 Meg Buscemi rated it really liked it
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?"
Justin Gaynor
Apr 08, 2016 Justin Gaynor rated it it was amazing
This may be my favorite novel ever. I've read it a number of times now, and each time I become completely engrossed in the story. And what a story!

We have many novelists who can write circles around the most mundane of subjects, given their mastery of language. And many others who can write crackerjack plots to keep you engaged. It's a very short list who can manage both, and this book, to me, represents the ideal marriage of the two.

I'll admit that it took some effort, the first time I read thi
Mar 21, 2015 Teresa rated it it was amazing

This is a fugue of a family tale that includes the history of the Fens in eastern Britain and the reason to study history itself. The telling reminds me of Moby Dick. The story itself is that of two families - the Cricks, steady folk that manage the marshy fens, and the Atkinsons, the powers-that-be in the fens and industrious brewers of the finest ales. It's also a personal tale of a descendant of those families, Tom Crick, a history teacher who tells the tale slowly and digresses constantl
jin jie
Jan 08, 2015 jin jie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*It is recommended that you do not read this if you have not read the novel, and you should read this with no prior expectations*

This was really something that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, because of the expertly crafted sentences and adroit sense of English by Swift. This novel explores the nature and importance of history through universal stories passed down from generations (and I really found it interesting that Swift manages to write a novel spanning so many different time periods). This
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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 about Graham Swift...

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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.” 63 likes
“What we wish upon the future is very often the image of some lost, imagined past.” 16 likes
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