Making an Elephant
Writing from Within
By Graham Swift
Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307270993, 416pp.
Publication Date: June 23, 2009
List Price: $26.95*
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In his first-ever work of nonfiction, the Booker Prize–winning author of such acclaimed novels as Waterland and Last Orders gives us a highly personal book: a singular and open-spirited account of a writer’s life.
As generous in its scope as it is acute in its observations, Making an Elephant brings together a richly varied selection of essays, portraits, poetry and interviews, full of insights into Graham Swift’s passions and motivations, and wise about the friends, family and other writers who have mattered to him over the years. Kazuo Ishiguro advises on how to choose a guitar; Salman Rushdie arrives for Christmas under guard; Caryl Phillips shares a beer with the author at a nightclub in Toronto. There are private moments with his father and with his own younger self, as well as musings on history, memory and imagination that illuminate the work of a writer who, in his fiction, regards it as “a mark of achievement” when his own voice and presence vanish into his characters.
A journey through place and time, conversation, encounters and ideas, Making an Elephant brims with charm and candor, an alertness to experience and a true engagement with words—in short, with what it means to believe that writing and reading are an essential part of living.
Graham Swift lives in London and is the author of eight novels: The Sweet-Shop Owner; Shuttlecock, which received the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; Waterland, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize and won The Guardian Fiction Award, the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and the Italian Premio Grinzane Cavour; Out of This World; Ever After, which won the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger; Last Orders, which was awarded the Booker Prize; The Light of Day; and, most recently, Tomorrow. He is also the author of Learning to Swim, a collection of short stories. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages.
Praise from abroad for Making an Elephant
“In Making an Elephant, Graham Swift rewardingly places himself at the centre of a book . . . A fine description of fishing with Ted Hughes is not only persuasive about the attractions of angling but cleverly compares the sport with the creative processes of writing. Equally good is the tribute to Isaac Babel . . . To introduce an excellent interview about his writing habits, he provides a marvellously evocative ‘local history’ of his (and briefly Thomas Hardy’s) own patch in Wandsworth. Even better is a beautifully crafted memoir of his father [which] is a touching portrait.”
–Sunday Times (England)
“Swift’s polished and engaging book is that classic example of what I call ‘the book under the bed,’ the compilation of ‘that tricky additional work that writers have to do’ . . . These pieces of occasional writing are never less than astute, generally wry and always thoroughly engaged.”
–Sunday Business Post (Ireland)
“For Swift, Making an Elephant is quite a departure. [But] familiar Swiftian themes resonate . . . It’s revealing, self-deprecating, full of fascinating details.”
“Swift is at his most movingly revelatory when discussing his work.”
–Sunday Telegraph (England)
“An effortless, pleasurable read . . . Swift has proved to be a man of unexpected depths. In one of the most powerful pieces, from which the book takes its title, he tells the story of his father . . . This is an exquisite piece of emotionally taut but unsentimental prose, the kind Swift excels at in his fiction . . . Together, [these pieces] create a candelabrum of ideas and memories, a softly glowing, and most unpompous, illumination of Swift’s distinguished literary career.”
–The Herald (Scotland)