Light of Day

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Former London police detective George Webb, "booted off the force" for trying in all the wrong ways to put away the right man, is now a private investigator specializing in matrimonial cases. He has crossed a line with a client, wholly upending his own life. By the close of this remarkable novel, which unfolds over the course of one day in George's life and mind, we will know him intimately from his childhood secrets to his fall from grace as a cop. In its slow and revelatory accumulation of physical and ...
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Light of Day

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Former London police detective George Webb, "booted off the force" for trying in all the wrong ways to put away the right man, is now a private investigator specializing in matrimonial cases. He has crossed a line with a client, wholly upending his own life. By the close of this remarkable novel, which unfolds over the course of one day in George's life and mind, we will know him intimately from his childhood secrets to his fall from grace as a cop. In its slow and revelatory accumulation of physical and emotional detail, THE LIGHT OF DAY illumines the ambiguities at the heart of the most profound and inexplicable human emotions: fear and hate, love and desire.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
… Graham Swift's new novel, The Light of Day, reads not like a hard-boiled detective tale but like a — well, like a Graham Swift novel. As with so many of his earlier fictions, from Waterland to Last Orders, this story is concerned, at heart, with the relationship between time present and time past, with the secrets kept from family and friends, with the deeply buried emotions lurking beneath the effluvia of daily life. The mood and tone of the book are decidedly Larkinesque: a fog of disappointment and regret wafts over the characters, muffling their actions and suffocating their dreams. — Michiku Kakutani
The Los Angeles Times
Like Swift's last novel, the 1996 Booker Prize-winning Last Orders, this work uses a death to pry loose memory and to chip away at the suppositions and self-delusions through which people view themselves and their lives. Yet it also affirms the shifting nature of human connections, and uses the mundane details of a single day to explore the broad scopes of love and passion, venality and benevolence, obsession and despair. — Scott Martelle
The Washington Post
With The Light of Day, Graham Swift distills emotion and incident into a hypnotic elixir. He is simply one of the most sure-handed, savvy and remarkable writers now at work. He is dedicated to matters of mortality, human weakness and passion, and seldom, if ever, does he indulge in moralizing. Every sentence in this new novel has a certain discretion, even while the narrator reveals everything. The story as a whole makes for a consummately tense read: It has that noir anxiety and makes life at every turn seem precarious. What's more, the prevailing mood is one of uncompromised melancholy, like a Bach composition for cello. Painstaking meditation and deft storytelling, novels of the mind and the senses in equal measure, are what I have come to expect -- and rely on -- from Graham Swift. He is a writer of immense gifts. — Howard Norman
The New Yorker
Swift's heroes tend to be extravagant brooders, circling around the sins of the past as the reader tries to piece together what, exactly, happened in the first place. The private investigator who narrates Swift's latest novel is haunted by an unusual job: two years ago, a beautiful woman hired him not to confirm that her husband was having an affair but to witness its demise. Her husband's lover, a Croatian refugee, was finally returning home, and the wife wanted someone present at their airport parting. All this becomes clear early on. So why is the private investigator now visiting his former client in jail every fortnight? "The Light of Day" is filled with intelligent meditations on everything from the frustrations of talking to the dead to the magical properties of dreaming in prison. Yet the meandering nature of the detective's narration seems coy and artificial, and too often our involvement is interrupted by a flicker of impatience.
Publishers Weekly
George Webb, a divorced ex-cop and the narrator of this fine novel, works as a private investigator in London specializing in "matrimonial work": finding evidence of philandering. Some of the tearful women who enter his office become lovers (one, Rita, becomes his heart-of-gold assistant), but Sarah Nash becomes something altogether different. A language teacher and translator, she wants Webb to follow her husband and his lover, Kristina Lazic, a refugee taken in by the Nashes, to the airport "to see if she really goes"-alone-back to Croatia. Sarah knows the truth of the affair already; she's just looking for a sign that her husband can love her again. But the story belongs to Webb, through a masterful interior monologue that links the action of the present with a meditation on the past. Webb's movements on a particular day in November furnish the opportunity to learn about his childhood, his failed marriage, his career as a policeman terminated by a minor scandal and his constrained and lonely life. Sarah becomes Webb's opportunity for a second chance at happiness and redemption. But that reality will have to wait until her release from prison (it's not giving away the plot to note her crime: the murder of her husband). While this story sounds a bit like an American noir thriller from the 1930s (and Swift's title may be a nod to the noir fascination with night and shadow), the Booker Prize-winning author (for Last Orders) is after bigger themes: the weight of history, the role of fate, the inexplicable vagaries of love. Though perhaps not at the level of Last Orders, this beautifully written novel is a worthwhile addition to the Swift canon. (May 5) Forecast: It's been nearly seven years since the publication of Last Orders, and an expectant readership may well justify Knopf's 75,000 first printing. Lovely cover art won't hurt. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
PI George Webb, a former cop kicked off the force for exceeding limits with a scummy suspect, finds himself with a much bigger problem: he is in love with his client, Sarah Nash, who has been convicted of murdering the straying husband Webb was hired to follow. Gynecologist Bob Nash had taken up with one of Sarah's students, a Croatian refugee Sarah had thoughtfully invited to live with them. As Swift (Waterland) slowly reveals Webb's feelings for Sarah and unfolds the events leading up to the murder, he intersperses Webb's reflections on his failed marriage, relationship with daughter Helen, final days on the force, and childhood grief at his father's own philandering. The result is a beautifully crafted meditation on love and loss that nevertheless doesn't quite come off. The layering of life events should build the arc of tension but instead disrupts it, and the use of minimalist prose that often echoes itself is sometimes effective and sometimes not. Buy for larger collections; Swift remains an important British writer. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02.]-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An ex-policeman turned private detective finds himself unable to forget a former client who murdered her unfaithful husband. This intricate and absorbing seventh novel from the Booker-winning British author (Last Orders, 1996, etc.) is constructed "like one of those sequences of film played backwards, so the victim who's been struck down seems to leap towards the blow." That metaphoric film is the narrative that assembles itself in the mind and memory of protagonist George Webb. We first meet Webb on the anniversary of the day when language teacher Sarah Nash killed her husband Bob, a successful gynaecologist [sic] who had just ended his affair with Kristina Lazic, the Croatian refugee who had been Sarah's pupil and their houseguest, and was returning to her formerly embattled homeland. The tricky narrative circles around the day of that murder, which is juxtaposed against related occasions and memories: the day Webb's wife Rachel left him, following his dismissal from the force for assaulting a suspect and botching a probable conviction; Sarah Nash's first meeting with the p.i. Webb and his instant attraction to her; the day at the golf course during Webb's youth when he discovered his own father's adultery; and the present day, when Webb observes the rituals of bringing flowers to Bob Nash's grave, and visiting the prison where Sarah waits, another ghost from his past that he's unable to embrace. The story is a triumph of tone: its slowly accreting portrayal of a life unraveling with agonizing slowness, haunted by infidelity, secrecy, and guilt, gathers great emotional power. It is, however, intermittently redundant and sluggish, and the potentially rich character of Sarah is(deliberately, we understand) never brought fully into focus. Nevertheless, The Light of Day is an elegant and gripping text: a virtuoso fusion of noir-drenched mystery and psychological analysis reminiscent of similar recent works by Kazuo Ishiguro and Paul Auster. A moody lament for a vanished past, present, and future that grates subtly on the nerves and lingers uncomfortably in the memory. First printing of 75,000. Agent: Caradoc King/AP Wyatt
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565117662
  • Publisher: HighBridge Company
  • Publication date: 4/14/2003
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 4.46 (w) x 1.24 (h) x 7.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Award-winning author GRAHAM SWIFT was born in 1949 in London where he still lives and works. He is the author of six previously published novels including Last Orders, which was awarded the Booker Prize and was made into a critically-acclaimed film released February, 2002, starring Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, David Hemmings, Tom Courtenay, and Helen Mirren. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages.

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Read an Excerpt

“Something’s come over you.” That’s what Rita said, over two years ago now, and now she knows it wasn’t just a thing of the moment.
Something happens. We cross a line, we open a door we never knew was there. It might never have happened, we might never have known. Most of life, maybe, is only time served.
Morning traffic in Wimbledon Broadway. Exhausts steaming. I turn the key in the street door, my own breath coming in clouds.
“Something’s come over you, George.”
But she knew even before I did. She’s not in this job for nothing, she can pick up a scent. And soon she’s going to leave me, any day now, I can tell. I can pick up a scent as well.
She’s here before me of course. When isn’t she? She doesn’t sleep these days, she says. “These days” have lasted years. Always awake with the dawn, so why not? Always something to be done. And I pitch up after her. Boss’s privilege. Though it’s not yet half-past eight, and last night I was out on a job till gone two. And today’s a special day.
As I reach the top of the stairs I hear the click and hiss of an already warm kettle being switched on. The computer in her little compartment (we call it the “reception area” but “area” ’s a generous word) is already up and running. It feels like she might have been here all night.
“Cold,” she says, with a shiver at the air I’ve brought in and a little nod to the outside world.
“But beautiful,” I say.
She’ll have been here before the sun hit the streets.
“Coffee or tea?” she says, ignoring mysmile -- and that word -- as if insisting I’ll have had a rough start.
But I don’t have a sleep problem, not now. Though maybe I should. I grab it when I can, catnap, get by on little. An old trick of the trade. And Rita’s sleep problem, if she’s honest about it (and sometimes she is) isn’t really a sleep problem either.
“An empty bed, George, that’s all it is. If there was someone there . . .”
“Tea, I think, Reet. Nice and strong.”
She’s wearing the pale pink top, soft wool, above a charcoal skirt. Round her neck a simple silver chain. The small twinkly stud earrings, a waft of scent. She always gets herself up well, Rita. We have to meet the public, after all.
But the pale pink is like a flag, her favourite colour. A very pale pink -- more like white with a blush. I’ve seen her wearing it many times. I’ve seen her wearing a fluffy bathrobe of the same soft pink colour, loosely tied, tits nuzzling inside. Bringing in morning tea.
I go into my office, leaving the door open. The sun is streaming through my first-floor window, the low, blinding sun of a cold November morning, the sun Rita never gets in her compartment, except through the frosted glass of my door.
She follows me in with the tea, and a mug for her- self, a bundle under her arm. There’s always this morn- ing conference -- my office door open -- even as I settle myself in, take off my coat, switch on my own computer, sit down. The sun’s warm through the glass, even if outside the air’s icy.
She puts down my tea, already sipping her own, eyeing me over the rim. She slips the bundle onto my desk, pulls round the other chair -- the “client’s chair.” She steps through bars of bright light.
It’s like a marriage really. We’ve both thought it. It’s better than a lot of marriages (we know this). Rita -- my assistant, my associate, my partner, or not-quite partner. Her job description has never exactly been set in stone. But I wouldn’t dream of calling her my receptionist (though she is that too) or even my secretary.
“Be an angel, Reet.”
“I am an angel, George.”
Where would I be without her?
But she’s going to leave me, I can tell. One morning like this one: she won’t bring in a mug of her own and she won’t put down the bundle of files, she’ll keep it hugged tight to her, a shield, and she won’t sit down. She’ll say “George” in a way that will make me have to look up, and after a bit I’ll have to say, “Sit down, Rita, for God’s sake,” and she’ll sit facing me like a client.
“It’s been good knowing you, George. It’s been good working with you, but . . .”
She knows what day it is. A Thursday, and Thursdays are special, but she knows the date, the day of the year. November twentieth. Two years -- if you count it from that day. Two years and it hasn’t stopped. And if it hasn’t stopped, it will go on for the years to come, however many they’ll be. The time’s gone when she could say (as she did once), “How can you, George -- with her?” Or when she could say, to herself: He must be mad, he must be off his head, but he’ll come round, it’ll stop, give it time. He’ll come slinking back. And meanwhile what better guarantee, what better safeguard, really -- that woman being where she is?
I think she’s come to accept it -- even to respect it. A fact, a feature. Mr. Webb is always “on an assignment” every alternate Thursday afternoon. I’ve even seen this look of sweet sad understanding in her eyes. That’s why I think she’s going to quit.
“Those are for Mrs. Lucas -- this afternoon. Five forty-five. Earliest she can do.” A quick glance. “You’ll be back?”
We both know what’s in the envelope. Photographs. Photographs of a man and a woman in a hotel room. A little blurred but clear enough for recognition, at six-by- nine enlargement. “Surveillance equipment” is reliable these days. We have to get the film processed specially -- a private contract -- and Rita collects. A man and a woman doing things with each other. But this sort of stuff hardly raises an eyebrow or even gets that much of a look from Rita and me. It sits there, like the morning mail, between us.
Our stock-in-trade. Can you see who’s who? That’s the vital thing.
“Yes, I’ll be back by five-thirty.”
“And I’ll just say” -- she doesn’t push the point too much -- “you’ll be out of the office till then?”
“But I won’t leave before ten. I can take calls till then.”
“It’s a beautiful day out there,” I say again. “Cold, but beautiful.”
Another sideways look, more lingering this time. She might be saying, You poor bloody idiot.
The eyes are tired, made up immaculately, but tired. The sunlight streaming in is like a warm bath, but it isn’t kind to the lines round her eyes. It catches a wisp of steam rising from her mug and puts a sparkle in her hair. She moves a bit closer to point out something. A silver bracelet at the end of the pink sleeve.
A long time now, since the last time. I’d asked her round to try some of my cooking (Rita may be an angel, but she’s a hopeless cook). I might even have spelt it out to her: a meal, that was all. But that’s the trouble with good cooking (if I say it myself). Not to mention red wine. It warms the heart, the cockles, as well as the stomach. Melts the resistance.
“Things on your mind, Reet?” The considerate boss.
“Not exactly, George. You?” She’d cupped her wineglass in both hands -- her nails wine-red too. “It’s just not having anyone there. You know. Somebody by your side.”

Copyright© 2003 by Graham Swift
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2003


    Not only an important book, The Light Of Day is an important work of art. Booker Prize winner Graham Swift skillfully paints his protagonist's past and hoped for future within the frame of one single day. George Webb is a former policeman, relieved of his duties by poor judgment and ensuing scandal. Rachel, his wife, responded to these events by leaving him. 'We both knew which way it worked for Rachel,' George opines. ' Rachel decided - almost overnight - that I wasn't just a bad cop, I was a bad husband, a bad deal altogether. Rachel decided I was no longer for her and went her own way.' With little but a policeman's training to recommend him, George becomes a private investigator reduced to tracking down evidence of unfaithful husbands or wives for their vengeful spouses. Enter Sarah Nash, a teacher , and prospective client who comes to occupy his every thought. Rather than follow her husband, Sarah has an altogether different request. She already knows that her husband Bob has been having an affair with her pupil and their houseguest, Kristina, a Croatian refugee. Now, according to Bob, the affair is over and Kristina will return to Croatia. Sarah wants the pair watched to make sure the girl really boards the plane. Throughout this tense, dark narrative, all of which takes place in George's mind, we learn of the day he first discovered that his father was an adulterer, and relive the joy he feels when having dinner with his daughter, Helen. We also are privy to his dreams of the future as he waits for Sarah who has been imprisoned. Graham Swift's remarkable soul baring novel is a reminder of the twists and turns that life may take as well as a haunting psychological drama.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 13, 2010

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