Sometimes a novel grasps you, right from the start. Could it be the first sentence that sets a dreamy almost fairy tale context: “Once upon a time, before the boys were killed and when there were more horses than cars …”? Followed by a discussion on the ownership of the fourth leg of a racehorse which subtly ends with “He had a hand on her leg”. Thereby effortlessly creating the required tone of intimacy. This intimacy continues throughout the novel. Swift takes us along in what turns out to be the last moment two lovers spend together. He, well-born, about to marry into money, she the maid working for the neighbours. Though born in different classes their relationship, which lasts for seven years, bears in it an element of equality. It might be the independence she shows in not caring about the consequences, it might be the way he grants her his house on this sunday just before he gets married. Or it might be that they were just made for each other in bed.
Swift describes how he gets dressed, than has her move about the house naked and without any sense of shame or urgency. By varying in the length of sentences and by subtly moving between past and present, Swift creates a contemplative almost poetic sphere that fits the moment of saying goodbye. And the knowledge that she, Jane, will go on to work in a bookshop and start writing novels herself, successfully. Jane being the one who looks back Swift can make her look at the people she encounters daily as potential characters in a novel, which they eventually become in one of her novels. Reality and fiction start to intermingle.
As the novel continues Swift changes focus from the lover’s bed to the succesful career Jane has. He has her ponder on novels that influence her, the meaning and role of words, her love of certain words. Mothering Sunday changes from a mere tale about two lovers into a coming of age novel. It evolves into a novel about finding one’s place in society, about making choices, for language and literature in this case. Swift being a talented writer who expertly chooses words, structure and topics makes for a beautiful novel. I loved Mothering Sunday, I can imagine people finding it too dreary, too contemplative though. I enjoyed it immensely. I loved reading about Jane on this one particular Sunday.