If you are looking for a satisfying read, something more literary than the usual light summer fare, I highly recommend The Light of Day by Graham Swift. One of Britain’s foremost contemporary writers, Swift won the prestigious Booker Prize for his 1996 novel Last Orders. A novelist at the height of his talents, Graham Swift succeeds where lesser authors would fail, weaving threads from the past, present and future into one seamless story of love, loss and obsession.
Do not be deceived by the seemingly all-too-familiar plot of The Light of Day. Far from being a hackneyed detective story, this novel is a fascinating study of human nature told with skill and subtlety by a wonderful writer.
The narrator, George Webb, is a disgraced ex-cop turned private detective. He becomes obsessed with a beautiful female client named Sarah Nash. Sarah’s husband Bob has been having an affair with Kristina, a Croatian student they took into their home when her family was killed in the Balkan war. When Bob tells Sarah that the affair is over and Kristina is returning to Kosovo, Sarah hires George to follow them to the airport to make sure Kristina actually leaves alone. Sarah seems ready to forgive her erring husband, even preparing his favorite dinner but, when he returns from the airport, she kills him.
The novel spans a single day in George Webb’s life. It is the second anniversary of the day Sarah Nash murdered her unfaithful husband. For the second time since her husband’s death, Sarah sends George to place roses on his grave. When he visits her in jail, she seems desperate for some kind of sign from beyond the grave that Bob has forgiven her. In a strange twist on the usual love triangle, George is obsessed with the imprisoned Sarah, who in turn is still in love with her dead husband. In an intersecting love triangle, Rita, George’s assistant and lover, tries to persuade him that his obsession for Sarah will fade with time. During a day in which George meets with yet another female client searching for evidence of her husband’s infidelity, he remembers the circumstances leading up to the murder and speculates about why events unfolded as they did.
Graham Swift expertly unfolds the mystery of what happened two years previously entirely through the thoughts and memories of the narrator. Swift’s pacing is faultless, moving the story along in the present while revealing tantalizing details about the past. The mystery lies not in the facts of the case but in the motivations of the people involved. George pieces everything together in his mind, struggling in the context of his own experience, to understand why. As a detective he is a skilled observer of detail but, as his artist daughter points out, he often fails to see the whole picture - the truth in the clear light of day.
There are many levels to this intricately structured novel. Love triangle is layered upon love triangle in both the present and the past to create a sense of the inexplicability of desire and the strength of obsession. This is a beautifully written book; take the time to savor it.