Mothering Sunday is both a dissection of the nature of fiction and a gripping story; a private catastrophe played out in the quiet drawing rooms of the English upper middle-class, the drama that unfolds is all the more potent for its containment ... 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. Jane may be the motherless maidservant and Paul the carelessly privileged heir, but as she rises from their bed in the wake of his departure, walks naked through his grand empty house and begins to exercise her novelist’s entitlement – to watch, to observe, to describe and to transcend her circumstances – the balance of power shifts momentously in her favour and Swift’s small fiction feels like a masterpiece.
Mr. Swift makes little nods and bows to Downton Abbey, Upstairs, Downstairs, as well as Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. But Sunday wears such borrowings lightly. As a result, it feels less self-consciously literary than Mr. Swift’s earlier novels, and while it has a haunting, ceremonious pace, it also possesses a new emotional intensity.
While more streamlined and elliptical than Swift's earlier novels, Mothering Sunday builds in complexity with its layering of revelations and memories over time. More than just a story about crossing 'impossible barriers' like class and education, it is a love song to books, and to finding words, language, and a voice. It is about this remarkably self-possessed woman's ability to regard the "clean sheet" she was given at birth, free from pedigree or history, as an 'innate license to invent' — and a dead-end affair as a gateway to 'untethered' possibility.