Mothering Sunday: A Romance (2016)

by Graham Swift

Mothering Sunday: A Romance takes place on Britain’s mothers day in 1924. World War I claimed many sons who would have honored mothers. Twenty-two-year-old Jane Fairchild is a maid for an upper-class family whose two sons died. Although she has no mother to visit, Jane has the day off. Her employers will be lunching at a restaurant with a neighboring family that also lost two sons in the war. That family’s only remaining child, Paul, who is soon to marry a woman of his class, has been Jane’s secret lover for seven years. Alone in the family mansion, he telephones Jane to join him. It is the first time they have sex in his bedroom instead of in fields and stables.

What transpires the rest of the day will change Jane’s life in unexpected ways, leading to her becoming a novelist. As Swift moves from that fateful day to the elderly Jane’s reflections, we see how Jane, against all odds, was able to use life circumstances and events to seed her vocation.

Mothering Sunday is short but complex, written in the third person with Jane’s the only point of view. A master of ambiguity, Swift gives readers the facts of what happened that pivotal Sunday and lets us interpret them.

Intriguing as well are the insights Swift gives into the writing vocation. The orphan Jane turns coming from nothing into a clean slate for invention. Service as a maid hones a sharp observation. Misfortunate and grief are ground up and become inspiration. What a storyteller leaves out is as important as what to put in. Although Swift titled his book A Romance, it is as also essentially a contemplation of writing.

Whether viewed as an actual romance or a romance with words, Mothering Sunday is a beautifully executed book.


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