‘Mothering Sunday’ by Graham Swift

swift

2016, 132 p.

This small novella by Graham Swift is an exemplar of the genre, written by a master.  Swift takes a small image and spins it into something tight and intricate, but with threads that could lead into something larger.  In this case, the image is a woman lying naked among the tangled sheets in a sun-filled room in an empty house.

Her lover Paul has just stood up from the bed, and he looks back at her as he dresses.  It is 1924, Mothering Sunday.  In the drab and aching days after WWI, Paul is the only remaining son of the Sheringham family, with his two older brothers killed in the war. Jane is an orphan, a housemaid in a neighbouring house. Their relationship is an illicit secret, impossible to bring into the open.

For those few gentry families still clinging to a vanishing world of big houses and servants, Mothering Sunday is always an inconvenience. Their hired help are given the whole day off to visit their own mothers, leaving their employers to make their own arrangements. But, as an orphan, Jane has no mother to visit and so she has the whole day to herself- or so she thought.  Paul has other ideas.

This book is only 132 pages in length, and it is just right.  The language is explicit and fruity, but the narrative voice wistful and melancholy.  Swift foreshadows the ending right from the start, and the tension in moving towards that ending is so painful that I wouldn’t have wanted it to go for another page longer. It was so beautifully written, however, than I wouldn’t wish for a single page less, either.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

My rating: 9/10

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