Tomorrow by Graham Swift [review]

tomorrowSome protagonists are designed to be annoying.  Some simply are that way.  No matter how annoying, frustrating or distasteful they can still be fascinating and memorable for readers.

If only that were the case in Graham Swift’s Tomorrow. Sadly his central character Paula Hook is decidedly irritating but – it has to be said – too self-centered and pre-occupied to also be interesting. She’s the mother of sixteen-year-old twins Nick and Kate (or as she likes to call them her “pair of shrimps” or “angels”. It’s 1995 and she lies awake one night thinking of what will occur the following day when she and her husband Mike plan reveal a BIG SECRET to the children that “will change all our lives.”.  It’s Mike who will do the talking because that’s his role. But tonight, as the rain falls and her husband snores, Paula mentally addresses the twins herself.  She wants to supply the missing pieces in the jigsaw of their lives.

“I picture a bomb going off and this house falling to bits. I picture everything remaining oddly, precariously, ominously the same. An unexploded bomb. It still might go off — next week, the week after, any time.”

And so she rewinds to the time when she and Mike met as students at Sussex; fell in love and got married. Success followed – for her as director of an art gallery and for him as editor of a popular science publishing business. All that marred their blissful existence were some family bereavements and the disappearance of their cat Otis.  For more than 100 pages we’re drip fed information and just as we think Paula is at last going to reveal all, she stops, rewinds and starts off on another train of thought.

Now this would be ok if what she has to say is insightful or fresh. But it’s not. It’s repetitive, with each anecdote or revelation seeming to be an excuse for yet another of Paula’s indulgences in word play. One of her favourites is based on their family surname; another is about her husband’s doctoral interest in the breeding habits of snails. She’s a judge’s daughter and her mind is occupied by how her kids will ‘judge’ their father the following day. So of course when she describes the first meeting between future father-in-law and Mike, he feels he is being weighed up by ‘a judge of men, a judge of wine’ though Paula says, Mike’s “real moment of judgment was to come much later in life’ (in other words, tomorrow).

“Listen to your father, he’s got something important to say,” she says. “And then he’ll be nobody, he’ll be what you make of him. If you want, you can even tell him to leave.”

The trouble is that what Paula says to her children often stretches credulity.   Paula is so keen to demonstrate how she has the perfect marriage that she delves into details few children care to know about in relation to their parents. Over and over again we get told what an active sex life she and Mike have, and how it was even more perfect when Otis the cat joined them in bed (eh??). What kind of mother tells a story including the phrase “as I straddled your father” or reveals in great detail the one night stand she had with the vet?  What kind of mother tells her kids that if it comes to a choice, she will choose Mike not them? For whose benefit is this being disclosed I wonder?  It feels like a contrivance to put a bit of spark into an otherwise lucklustre tale.

Tomorrow is constructed to keep the reader in the dark for as long as humanly possible. Which would be ok if a) the secret was a jaw-droppingly big one and b) i wasn’t foreshadowed so much that it became simple to guess.  As a result the novel flopped into a stream-of-consciousness monologue by a woman utterly self-absorbed that she failed to get me to empathise with her in any measurable way.


The Book: Tomorrow by Graham Swift was published in 2007 by Picador. I listened to an audioversion from my local library.

The Author: Graham Swift is from London, UK. Tomorrow is his eighth published book. He won the Man Booker Prize in 2006 with Last Orders. 

Why I listened to this book: I loved Last Orders (reviewed here) so was keen to explore more of Swift’s work but they had nothing in print in the library at the time. I thought the interior monologue nature of Tomorrow would work well in audio format. Maybe it just made Paula Hook even more irritating however since I couldn’t get away from her voice



About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on April 3, 2017, in Audiobooks, Book Reviews, United Kingdom and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. Doesn’t Swift tend to be a slow, feely, draggy sort of author? Maybe I’m thinking of someone else…. possibly Graham Greene.


  2. The sex with the kids business made me laugh. Our son, now in his thirties and experienced in intimate relationships, still hates the slightest allusion to his parents having any sort of sexual life! I like to tease him sometimes – but only now when he’s an adult. Certainly not when he was young.

    I saw Lisa’s review, and the two of you haven’t made me want to rush out and buy the book, but I probably wouldn’t have anyhow as a couple of his older books are on the TBR and that’s what I’d be reading if I were going to read him at all.


  3. I recently read Lisa’s review and she didn’t like it either.

    Re: talking about sex with the kids. I assume though that she’s going through this in her mind the night before and not actually talking to the kids. If that’s the case then it’s more believable that her thoughts stray from what she’ll actually say the following day.


  4. robinandian2013

    As I’m away for a few days I packed several books, including Tomorrow – hoping it might be as good as Mothering Sunday. But given your review and also Lisa Hill’s I wont even open it. It goes straight to the op shop. Thank you for sparing me.


    • Gosh I didnt realise how much influence a review could have. I’m looking forward to exploring Mothering Sunday about which I hear only good reports – I’m sure that Swift is a far better author than is evident in Tomorrow. Ah well every author has their off day I suppose


  5. Not the kind of book to attract me, but I do enjoy your review of it, which is both fair and funny.


  6. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Check out this review of the book, Tomorrow, by Graham Swift, from the Booker Talk blog


  7. Oh that doesn’t sound good. And his eighth book! He should have known better by then. I loved Last Orders but have not read any of his others: maybe I should leave it that way!


  8. For a not so satisfying read, it’s a fabulous review, I love a great review of a book that didn’t spark, they can be so much more challenging to write about, but you’re honesty and analysis of what caused your impressions is well done. Swift isn’t a writer I’ve read much of and Last Orders didn’t stay with me at all, I’ll surely be passing on this one, I wonder about his decision to immerse himself in a female protagonist, it seems to lack credibility.


  9. OK. When I read the line “As I straddled…”, I was convinced. Eek, this book will just not work for me.


    • I cringed at that point too, thinking how I would have felt if I’d heard my mother say it to me. i would never have been able to look at my parents without that image running through my head


  10. I’ve read a few novels by this author and liked them. Then when I saw this one I was interested to read it, but a friend of mine read it and had the same reaction as you. Too slim an idea….


  11. I’ve read a couple of Swift’s novels and enjoyed them but this sounds like it falls a bit flat….


  12. This one really isn’t getting good feedback from bloggers I trust… Definitely one to avoid, methinks!


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