The elevator pitch for Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday might be Downton Abbey with sex. Real, sweaty, messy sex – not the sterilised, candlelit fantasies of most period pieces.
But that would sell Swift’s great little novella short. The story centers around a pivotal day in the life of Jane Fairchild, an orphan who works as a maid in 1920s England. But it’s about so much more: love, gender, class, power, loss, history. The intersection of truth and imagination; the power of books and the written word; and yes, sex as well.
It’s another in a growing list of great short novels I’ve read this year, joining Grief is the Thing With Feathers, The Vegetarian, My Name Is Lucy Barton and What Belongs To You. Like those, Mothering Sunday is focused and powerful and superbly written. It’s fine storytelling that doesn’t waste a word or a moment.
Okay, so after weeks trying to slog through those awful Alien books I’d probably enjoy the writing in the phone book. But this is good stuff.
Next: another English period drama with a female protagonist, actually.