Historia, -ae, f. 1. inquiry, investigation, learning. 2 a) a narrative of past events, history. b) any kind of narrative: account, tale, story.


"Ours was the marsh country..."
Great Expectations


Waterland is not to be confused with Waterworld. Waterland is a novel by Graham Swift, and among other things, it is about:

the stars, sluices, the end of history, the fens, the Headmaster, an empty vessel, holes and things, the story-telling animal, the rise of the Atkinsons, the question WHY?, accidental death, the change of life, La Revolution, the Ouse, Longitude, the lock-keeper, eels, Natural History, Artifical History, the Saviour of the World, Beauty and the Beast, nothing, the east wind, contemporary nightmares, the witch, the pike, the narrator's grandfather's chest, empire-building, phlegm, and the Rosa II.

I know this, because the chapters have titles like "About the stars and the sluices," wherein the narrator gives you a little more of the story, a flashback or two, and a tangentially important explanation of the stars and sluices as they relate to the story. There is also a chapter--it is the third to last--entitled "The Whole Story". The narrator is the headmaster of a school whose wife, realizing she is infertile, steals a baby at a local market. His childhood, which he scours for clues, is about his father the lock-keeper, his retarded brother Dick, the Atkinson brewery and the family that turned it into an empire, floods, beer, madness, and of course, the history of the Atlantic eel. He searches for clues by telling his life story to his history class, which is dominated by a snotty boy named Price, who believes that the French Revolution is going to happen again, since, after all, history repeats itself.

In the course of all this, Graham Swift examines the act of storytelling, the nature of history, and life in East Anglia, out on the fens. He owes a debt of structural mystery and flashbacks to William Faulkner, but comes off more legibly than The Sound and the Fury--it's a worthwhile read, and I recommend it.


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