A quartet of Cockney lives lost and redeemed
Wednesday 30 October 1996
He has held a place in the British novel reader's heart since his third novel, Waterland, was shortlisted in 1983. On that occasion, dismayingly for his home supporters, he was pipped to the prize by JM Coetzee, the South African recluse, with his grindingly depressing Life and Times of Michael K. Long-term Booker watchers recall the huge roar that went up when Swift, then 34, stepped up to receive his bound-volume consolation prize.
Waterland was probably the finest British novel of the Eighties, only eclipsed, if at all, by Martin Amis's Money or Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. Swift's tale - part lecture, part history lesson, part concession, part quasi-biblical rant - took the Fens and flatlands of East Anglia and enthused them with Dickensian magic. Subsequent novels failed to reach the same heights: Out of this World and Ever After were well-crafted, multi-vocal excursions into loss and grief, but lacked the imaginative motor of Waterland.
Last Orders, the Booker winner, concerns the journey taken from Bermondsey to Margate Pier by four ageing cockneys, Vince, Vic, Lennie and Ray, to deposit the ashes of their friend (and Vince's adopted father) Jack Dodds, a family butcher, into the cold swell of the Thames.
As the quartet of quarrelling, drinking companions inches through the traffic, their past lives, their fractured careers and secret intersections are gradually revealed: we loop back to the war to V-1 rockets, the Desert Rats, to boxing and babies and betrayal - and gradually a whole community of Londoners seems to radiate from the back of Vince's posh Mercedes.
It is a strange, low-key, but powerfully moving evocation of lives lost and redeemed that brings this multi-talented Londoner the big prize at last.
- 1 Joan Rivers: 'Palestinians deserve to be dead'
- 2 Perez Hilton apologises for Jennifer Lawrence nude photo leak
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
- 5 Isis terror threat: Leading British Muslims issue fatwa condemning terror group
Israel-Gaza crisis: YouTube footage shows scale of destruction after 50 days of shelling
iPhone 6 'hidden code' could indicate sharper screens or bigger phones
Ebola virus: It's ripped through towns – now the deadliest ever outbreak of the virus is heading for Africa's teeming cities
Perez Hilton apologises for Jennifer Lawrence nude photo leak
A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
£24000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Are you a Marketin...
£70000 - £75000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Katie Robinson +44 (...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: ASD and EBD teachers required for S...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: LSA's required! West Midlands