Here We Are is a paragon of the magic of compressed narration. How does Swift pull off this literary sleight of hand? ... Readers who hope for the curtain to be drawn back completely may be as disappointed as audiences looking for the secrets behind conjuring a parrot from thin air and then making it disappear without a trace ... once again, Swift has demonstrated wizardry in his ability to conjure magic out of ordinary lives.
The story unfolds as if we’re watching it through glass ... Graham Swift’s new novel is really Ronnie’s story ... At the novel’s climax, Swift gives us a description of Ronnie’s act which, because he’s made us wait for it, is as enthralling as anything that will be published this year ... With its focus on the marginalised suburban underbelly of England, the novel might have been written by William Trevor (I can offer no higher praise) ... The book wonderfully captures the experience of evacuation during the second world war, which offers a lens through which to study the relationship between growing up and displacement. It’s also a profoundly important story to tell in its own right: a better understanding of what this fracturing of so many childhoods did to people can help us to more clearly understand the latter half of the 20th century ... it has an archetypal quality, reminiscent of a folktale, that encourages the reader to think of the vanished stories their own family histories might reveal. I don’t know quite how Swift does it – the book is light, perhaps slight, and the story is all told at one or two removes so that it reads as though it’s happening in the next room. And yet it’s a magical piece of writing: the work of a novelist on scintillating form.
The drama that unfolds is a powerful study of fame, identity and lost love ... [a] profound sense of melancholy...imbues the proceedings and is most keenly felt through the pervading air of wistful evanescence ... it leaves a lasting impression. There is much to appreciate, from the evocation of Ronnie’s childhood to the 'ballet of silent intersecting actions' that is his magic routine. Swift has also worked his magic to produce a novel fueled by, and consequently alive with, creative brilliance and emotional intensity.
Rather in the manner of James Joyce or Virginia Woolf, Mr. Swift composes his fiction like a musical composition, with dominant themes, leitmotifs and meaningful refrains ... Mr. Swift reveals the story bit by bit, as if uncovering a curtained frieze. We get some answers, in the end, but the central mystery—or 'illusion,' as Ronnie would have it—is never explained. We are left to find the complex truth behind the apparent magic ... Mr. Swift has managed to squeeze an enormous amount of thematic content into what appears to be a simple tale ... fiction for the thinking person, for the reader who notices details and patterns. It is also a strangely emotional work.
There’s a simple analogy to be made between magic tricks, which achieve their effects by hiding their workings, and fiction. It’s one that seems particularly appropriate to Swift’s recent novels, the exaggerated simplicity of which masks a vertigo-inducing emotional precipitousness ... His language, always plain, has become almost transparent ... Swift, unusually among his generation of English novelists, has never been afraid of cliché ... Some of the narrator’s descriptive touches in Here We Are...clearly belong to Swift. But most are those of his characters, expressed in a subtle free indirect style riddled with clichés, truism and the worn-out currency of everyday speech ... Despite its subject, there’s nothing extravagant or showy about Here We Are ... The book’s power comes precisely from the fact that it performs its magic in front of your eyes, leaving nowhere to hide. Barely noticing the mechanism, you wonder how he does it.
Graham Swift has always been a novelist with the lightest of touches. A lesser writer would have stretched this novel’s material out to 500 pages, smothering it in superfluous detail. Swift can give you the loneliness of childhood in couple of paragraphs or catch the uncertainty that lurks beneath Jack’s stage-manner jauntiness in a sentence. This means he demands careful reading. You might so easily miss the significant line ... Here We Are is a delight, all the characters and the settings thoroughly imagined and therefore inhabited ... He writes about the gaps between people and the attempts, sometimes vain attempts, to bridge them. He writes always with sympathy and understanding, and his ability to capture the fleeting moment is remarkable. He writes also about guilt and how we contrive to live with it and so often excuse ourselves. There is never anything flashy about Swift’s novels, but they are deeply satisfying. They are novels you want to read a second time to get more from them.
Just at the point when some of this might begin to feel too familiar — there are structural and tonal elements that sharply recall
Mothering Sunday Swift’s most recent and much-praised novel — we are propelled into something extraordinary ... Swift’s closing account of a mundane world momentarily pierced by a shaft of numinous mystery is magnificent.
... he shows himself, once again, a master of the genre ... Here We Are evokes an age gone by, a world that vanished with the popularity of television and the appearance of the Beatles. Part rural idyll, part 1950s show-biz romance, Here We Are may seem wistfully nostalgic, barely in touch with the terrorism, global economy, and digital dominance that characterize our current times. Through the lives of these three characters, however, Swift captures, in stunning prose, the often-sad truths about maturation, love, and friendship—themes still relevant today. And in the astonishing culmination of the novel, as in all good magic shows, Swift stage-manages a disappearing act—a literary sleight of hand—that makes the reader wonder, 'How did he ever do that?'
A triangle of characters provides a sturdy, reliable structure for a novel, and there are some foreseeable developments coming from that; but the book is more interesting on the subject of change ... The biggest changes in the book are hidden. The story jumps from 1959 to 2009, and there’s some pleasant mental exercise to be had in working out what happened in between. But it’s firmly backward-looking, and most of the book feels not just set in the 1950s but as though it were written then too: there’s no sense that this is a new perspective on the past. It’s comforting and cosy, which are by no means futile attributes in a book, but it does make the effort of reading it feel mildly inconsequential. It’s a bit sad, a bit funny, a bit interesting—but only a bit. Swift does show admirable boldness in his refusal to provide a neat ending, but for a story about magic and showbiz, it’s weirdly lacking in pizzazz.
Swift’s method is to set down ordinary things so as to suggest something more. His style, following his characters, is casual and colloquial, as he smoothly propels the action. As well as being an old-fashioned story told in an old-fashioned style, Here We Are has an emotional reticence, a reluctance to stir the reader’s feelings too far beyond the rueful tears of a survivor. The dramas of 1959 are safely in the past, carefully selected and blurred by memory. The theme of lonely childhoods and the possibilities of adult love give the novel its benign purpose and melancholy charm.
Shifting between the consciousnesses of its three central figures, Here We Are lacks the intense focus of Mothering Sunday, concentrated within the mind of a single character, and at times seems rather diffuse ... What still makes Here We Are a haunting read is the way its grin-and-greasepaint milieu takes on wider significance. Around its flamboyant trio of troupers, more sombre kinds of illusion, deception and vanishing acts are brought into view. Under the chirpy vivacity at the end of the pier lurk chilly depths. With a wizardry of his own, Swift conjures up an about-to-disappear little world and turns it into something of wider resonance.
... the real magic may be the way Swift moves through time ... Then and now, so much depends on the alchemy of luck and desire. With a sigh, Swift captures the tragicomedy of human life in a single phrase.
Swift’s latest slim novel promises the return of magic—but it soon turns out to be magic of the drably parochial variety ... At times Swift seems to be channelling a stage compere filling time before the main act arrives — but the voice is too inconsistent for this to work. He moves between a simple, honest idiom reflective of the postwar, British working class...and ornate words such as 'uxorious' and 'entombed'. It feels dashed off ... I’m not sure any amount of tinkering would have rescued this pale, watery novel ... It’s an anaemic ration-era soup, a pine furniture showroom off the A10, a damp afternoon indoors; come Armageddon, come. Swiftly read—swiftly forgotten.
...[a] melancholy, deeply moving tale of three showpeople in postwar Britain ... In the crisp, eloquently understated prose that has been a hallmark of Swift’s award-winning career, he traces the lives of the trio, both during that pivotal summer and earlier ... The title is deeply ironic, in that none of the three ever knows for sure where they are—with themselves or with one another—but Swift makes sure we know: three performers who could never quite leave their secrets behind.
Saturated with images and metaphors that recur like melodies, this jewel of a novel by Booker-winner Swift...conjures the shared past of a group of entertainers who performed together in 1959 ... In Swift’s trademark fashion, his close-third narration intertwines each character’s perspective to construct the tragic story in seamless transitions, gradually revealing past transgressions and sources of pain as time bends back on itself ... Swift’s brief, magical tale demonstrates one more brilliant example of his talent for pulling universal themes out of the hats of ordinary lives.
... slight but charming ... The bare bones of the plot don’t have much more flesh on them, but the hocus pocus of identity and destiny, how we become who we are and make the choices we do, offers plenty of surprise as well as revelation.