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'Here We Are' Conjures Magic From Ordinary Lives

Graham Smith's new novel seems at first to be a light little story about a seaside love triangle in Brighton, England in the 1950s — but it turns out to be about something far deeper.
Source: Knopf

Don't be fooled by the deceptive simplicity of Graham Swift's latest short novel. Here We Are, which at first appears to be a light little story about a love triangle between three variety show performers in seaside Brighton, England in 1959 — a song-and-dance man, a magician, and the magician's alluring assistant — turns out to be about nothing less than life's frequently baffling illusions and transformations.

Like , the slight but substantive novel that preceded it in 2016, is a paragon of the magic of compressed narration. How does Swift pull off this literary sleight of hand? He sets the stage with glimpses of ordinary lives and heartaches told from a tight third person point of view. We meet future magician Ronnie Doane when his largely absent merchant seaman father brings home a parrot, and with it a bit of welcome color into the boy's drab, impoverished early childhood in London's Bethnal Green with his bitter mother, a cleaning woman. We experience her heart-wrenching but pragmatic decision to evacuate eight-year-old Ronnie from Blitz-battered London to the countryside during the war. And we feel the boy's apprehension turn to relief and then guilt when he realizes how much happier he is in his "privileged, ... charmed existence" with his kind and loving foster parents in Oxfordshire.

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