Mothering Sunday

A Romance

Publisher: Vintage Canada

Jane Fairchild, orphaned at birth, has worked as a maid at an English country estate since she was sixteen. And for almost all of those years, she has been the secret lover of Paul Sheringham, the scion of the estate next door. On an unseasonably warm March afternoon, when all the servants have been let off work for the day in order to pay their annual visits to their families, Jane and Paul will make love for the last time in Paul's own bedroom--though not, as Jane believes, because Paul is about to be married.
     The events of the day will alter Jane's life forever. As the narrative moves back and forth from 1924 to the end of the century, what we know and understand about Jane, about the way she loves, thinks, feels, sees and remembers, deepens with every beautifully wrought moment. Her story is one of profound self-discovery and, through her, Graham Swift has created an emotionally soaring and deeply affecting work of fiction.

PRAISE FOR

“This book is slim in size but big on introspection. . . . Graham Swift has penned a novel about a writer reviewing her life, so he gets to play with the reader, kept guessing as to which is his voice and which is Jane’s. She—or is it Swift?—salutes Joseph Conrad as influencing her fiction. Regardless, Mothering Sunday is a solid gem of a book.” —The Waterloo Region Record

“[T]hough slim and quiet, [Mothering Sunday] is also blindingly, nakedly revealing about how we are made. . . . Downton Abbey fans may quiver in recognition—here’s Tom the chauffeur taking up with Lady Sybil. Indeed, like Downton Abbey, Swift echoes the big-name writers of his tale’s era. The romance is Lady Chatterley backward, and the one-day plot is straight out of Mrs. Dalloway. But there’s no glorying in that lost golden haze à la Brideshead Revisited. It’s a novel that turns novels inside out, willingly displaying its skin and skeleton and systems. It reads beautifully on the surface, but look into these workings and you’ll see just how fiction is built, and how life feeds on it. . . . Swift is a writer’s writer, and his language is devastatingly sharp (not for nothing did he win the Man Booker Prize). He dances us through Jane’s inner monologue, finding every single mot juste for stained sheets or contraceptive caps or orchids. ‘Granite and rainbow,’ to borrow from Woolf again, is the linguistic mix of the human mind. . . . In creating Jane, Swift performs a kind of parthenogenesis: Born from nothing, as characters are, she is realistically human as well as a self-consciously fictional. She wonders at one point whether her absurd nudity gives her ‘an exemption from fact,’ yet she comes alive and finds her own way through a new story. Watching her naked in body and mind is quite a thrill. Clearly, this ovum waits for no man.” —Alix Hawley, author of All True Not a Lie in It, The Globe and Mail 

Mothering Sunday . . . is a magnificent book, a small miracle. What at first appears the simplest of send-ups—a tale of the assignation between a housemaid and the heir to a country manor—flowers into an intricate examination of our notions of love and sex, class and gender, fact and fiction and the act of memory itself. . . . [E]xposing the extraordinary within the unexceptional has always been Swift’s genius. . . . [Mothering Sunday is] understated and enthralling, a majestic performance.” —Stephen Finucan, author of The Fallen, Toronto Star

“Despite the somewhat scandalous nature of its premise, Mothering Sunday, the slim new novel from . . . Graham Swift, is something altogether more powerful. . . . Swift is a master of subtlety, of the meaningful nuance, the casual gesture, the break in speech. . . . Mothering Sunday is a masterpiece of understatement, of fundamental human truth and the simplicity, and significance, of single moments. It’s a stunning achievement.” —Robert J. Wiersema, author of Before I Wake, National Post 

“Swift belongs to the generation who revitalized British fiction. . . . He was part of the now legendary lineup of Young British Novelists, selected by Granta magazine, that includes Kazuo Ishiguro, Rose Tremain, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Pat Barker, Julian Barnes, and Salman Rushdie.” —The Guardian

“A dazzling novel. . . . Alive with sensuousness and sensuality. . . . Wonderfully accomplished, it is an achievement as brilliant as its weather.” —Peter Kemp, The Sunday Times 

“[A] marvellous new novel. . . . From start to finish Swift’s is a novel of stylish brilliance and quiet narrative verve. The archly modulated, precise prose (a hybrid of Henry Green and Kazuo Ishiguro) is a glory to read. Now sixty-six, Swift is a writer at the very top of his game.” —Evening Standard

Mothering Sunday is . . . a kind of feminist Cinderella, set at the close of the Downton Abbey era, about a young maidservant’s coming-of-age. . . . [Mothering Sunday] is also a carefully chiseled story. . . . Mr. Swift’s novels have long had a bookish air about them. . . . But [Mothering Sunday] wears such borrowings lightly. As a result, [Mothering Sunday] feels less self-consciously literary than Mr. Swift’s earlier novels, and while it has a haunting, ceremonious pace, [Mothering Sunday] also possesses a new emotional intensity.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times 

[M]othering Sunday is, like everything Swift writes, quite unlike anything Swift has written before, and subtly teasing.” —The Times

“Swift is an undoubted master of detail and delay, working by a process of meditation and accumulation to create a narrative that carries far more heft than one might assume from its length. . . . Mothering Sunday is . . . a Conradian homage to a well-spring of inspiration. . . . You can hear his master’s voice echoing through the pages of this deceptively fine novel.” —James Runcie, The Independent

“[F]or all the detailed examination of character and the bold sweep of time, there is not a word wasted. . . . [A] lesson in poetic brevity. With a clear focus on the possibilities of the short form, he achieves a delicate harmony between the cool detachment of the narrative voice and the intensity of emotion conveyed on every page. This is a rare read indeed.” Ellah Allfrey, The Spectator

“[P]rofoundly moving. . . . Mothering Sunday features the restrained and yet emotive prose for which Swift is renowned. Repeated refrains give the novel an almost musical quality, like a Bach prelude and fugue reworking and reinventing themes and ideas. Not only do they bring a musicality and a coherence to the narrative, they add urgency and immediacy; an ominous sense that one must hold on to these refrains because everything is about to change catastrophically. . . . Mothering Sunday is a powerful, philosophical and exquisitely observed novel about the lives we lead, and the parallel lives—the parallel stories—we can never know. . . . It may just be Swift’s best novel yet.” —The Observer
 
Mothering Sunday is bathed in light; and even when tragedy strikes, it blazes irresistibly. Its sustained note is one of exultation, at the writer’s ruthless impulse to grind up disaster and move on. . . . Swift’s small fiction feels like a masterpiece.” —Christobel Kent, The Guardian

“Swift has written a book that is not just his most moving and intricate but his most engrossing too.”Financial Times

“[A] dazzling read: sexy, stylish, subversive. You finish it and immediately read it again, because . . . it’s a marvellous novel of possibilities. . . . [A] ravishing work of art.” —The Herald 
 
Jane is a marvellous creation who can seem wry, world-weary, innocent, or lusty, bringing to mind Molly Bloom. Swift has fun with language, with class conventions, and with narrative expectations in a novel where nothing is as simple or obvious as it seems at first.” —Kirkus Reviews 

“[Mothering Sunday is a] consummate novella. . . . The marvel of this little book is its unhurried, unforced inclusion of so much significance and drama in such a small space. Right from its emblematic opening, ‘Once upon a time, before the boys were killed and when there were more horses than cars,’ you realize [that Mothering Sunday] will be a story far bigger than its 132 pages. [Mothering Sunday is] rich with cool yet lyrical prose and potent images. . . . [Mothering Sunday is] also a story about stories, and ‘the great fabrication’ of writing. Swift takes these tired tropes and works them into vistas of great distance and an even greater riddle. . . . [Mothering Sunday is] a little island of prodigious treasures.” —The New Zealand Herald

“[P]owerful and intricately layered. . . . [W]ith every sentence counting, and not a word out of place, it is his most perfectly formed. . . . As ever, Swift beguiles and impresses with detail and ideas. . . . [E]ngaging and exquisite.” —The Australian