Making an Elephant: Writing from Within by Graham Swift. As with Unsworth, I’ve been following Swift’s work for a good few years now, ever since Waterland. He is not a very prolific writer, and has produced very little non-fiction, which makes the sudden appearance of this collection rather strange, particularly as it is something of a mess. There are interviews he has conducted and two interviews he has given, there are snatches of memoir, an introduction to a new edition of Montaigne, and a bunch of poems some of which are quite good though best when telling odd allusive stories rather like Cavafy. Practically everything in the book has a long introduction, some of the introductions are longer than the pieces. For example, there is a long piece about Wandsworth (where he lives) covering the history of the area, his family’s background in the area, and especially his liking for a particular pub near the prison that has since been demolished, all of which turns out to be an introduction to an interview with him conducted in that pub, the interview being much shorter and much less interesting than the introduction. There is also a sense of the precious about the book in chapter titles like ‘Buying a Guitar with Ish’ (Kazuo Ishiguro) or ‘In the Bamboo Club with Caz’ (Caryl Phillips), and to be honest his constant talk of ‘writer friends’, the fact that he seems to know no-one who isn’t a writer, doesn’t help to dispel that image. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book more than I feared I might, especially the chapter in which he seeks a reclusive and apparently unknown writer in Prague at the time of the Velvet Revolution, and the memoir of his father, both of which are model of how such pieces should be written.
First published at LiveJournal, 1 April 2009.