Light of Day

Light of Day

by Graham Swift


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On the anniversary of a life-shattering event, George Webb, a former policeman turned private detective, revisits the catastrophes of his past and reaffirms the extraordinary direction of his future. Two years before, an assignment to follow a strayed husband and his mistress appeared simple enough, but this routine job left George a transformed man.

Suspenseful, moving, and hailed by critics as a detective story unlike any other, The Light of Day is a gripping tale of murder and redemption, as well as a bold exploration of love and self-discovery. This powerful novel signals yet another groundbreaking achievement from Graham Swift, the author of the Booker Prize-winning novel Last Orders.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400032211
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/10/2004
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 323
Sales rank: 801,577
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Graham Swift was born in 1949 in London, where he still lives and works. He is the author of six novels: The Sweet-Shop Owner; Shuttlecock, which received the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; Waterland, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize and won the Guardian Fiction Award, the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and the Italian Premio Grinzane Cavour; Out of This World; Ever After, which won the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger; and Last Orders, which was awarded the Booker Prize. He is also the author of Learning to Swim, a collection of short stories. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

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 my smile—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.”

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Light of Day 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of George Webb, failed police officer turned private detective. His life has been turned around by one case: the murder of Mr. Nash by his wife. Mrs. Nash hired George to follow her husband, who was cheating on her. George was drawn to her, and two years later, is still totally wrapped up in her life. Graham Swift has done an outstanding job of painting a picture of George: his personality, hopes, fears and longings. The book takes place over a single day, but with flashbacks to cover George's life. The writing is fast-paced, even though this is primarily a character study. It definitely made me want to read more by this author.
Coyote99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What an awful book. Mesmerized by his own words, Swift manages to spin ever slower circles around events we already know happen with needless jumps forward and backward. Early on he decides that his tale has so little merit that his only chance is to make his narrative so confusing that the reader may mistake obfuscation for brilliance. A complete waste of time.
BookListener on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have mixed feelings on this book. Author painted a very convincing picture and the imagery sticks with me. On the other hand, it did seem the story moved excruciatingly slowly at times. He would dwell for a long time on the mood of a scene and then, almost in passing, mention key plot details.
samsheep on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I gave this four stars because....I was engaged, I liked it, I kept reading, some beautiful turns of phrase, some interesting characters. It had the quality feel to it. BUT sometimes it dragged - he really spun it out a bit too much, the pacing not quite what it could be. Also a silly small thing that really grated on me - the way that he used "sweetheart" a lot when speaking to her in prison. Somehow jarred with the rest of it.
adrianburke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
No. I cannot get on with this. Reading it is like listening to two radio stations at the same time. Two much cross interference. And really I feel the complication is all to do with the method of telling rather than anything else. One long fragmented flashback is intercut into a boring car trip. Did not finish. Life being too short.
sanddancer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Amazing! It plays with the conventions of the detective story and romance. We find out almost immediately who committed the crime, and the rest of the book is about piecing together the events that led up to it, all seen from the point of view of a detective, who has fallen in love with the murderer. That summary doesn't really do it justice. It is about relationships, secrets and love - all big themes, but it is beautifully written and griping.
gocam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Moderately more engaging than watching a slow paint dry, the book nonetheless explodes very occasionally with flashes of incendiary writing. 'Light of Day' indulges for most of its length in endless, insistent, circular, inevitable, here-again/there-again repetition surrounding a violent act that puzzles and initially intrigues and the back story detailing how our private detective protagonist ended up 'the man he is' - using a series of flash-back and -forward sequences we are led through a life that collides in a conclusion that should satisfy but rather stultifies . The form does tend to pull Webb's plight and life arc into tight focus, but honestly neither make for particularly engaging reading. As a treatment of a slow-burning drift into insular obsession the novel succeeds in generating a modicum of sympathy, but little more. Swift can write tremendously compelling almost poetic sequences (particularly when detailing the relationship with his daughter, and a cop whom he faces as nemesis then acquaintance), but they are buried deep in far too many words describing far too slight of a narrative where, frankly, there is little to care about. In reading this book I found myself at one point reminded of the power of selective repitition in Edwin Morgan's "In the Snack Bar" - a poem that achieves more in a few hundred words than this novel does in its entirety. Disappointing as I had high expectations after a punchy opening chapter, and having enjoyed "Last Orders".
cliffagogo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ex-cop and private detective George Webb reflects on his past and revisits his old relationships, to find meaning in recent tragic events. The author¿s knack for readable, believable dialogue makes for a compelling, addictive novel that pleases from start to finish. This, mixed with an incredible sense of structure and atmosphere, places Swift head and shoulders above the competition.
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