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You can never separate the past from the present.
am 28. Oktober 1999
From the descriptions of the Fens, isolated from civilization, and the lock keeper's cottage home, to the life that Swift gives to each character in his novel, a reader can visualize the settings and understand the people. Woven together are chapters which consantly move back and forth from past to present in a seamless way. The book is told in first person style by the persona of Tom Crick. He is in the present time teaching students about history, with an emphasis on his story. Most of what he tells is very sad and extremely personal. It seems as though Tom Crick cannot refrain from unburdening himself by sharing his story with the class as he ends his career. His eccentricities in teaching, along with his wife's mental breakdown and kidnapping of a baby finally result in Tom Crick's dismissal.
The book very sensitively takes the reader through school children's discovery of their sexuality, their tentative initial approach, sexual relationships and, finally, an abortion. Most touching is Swift's handling of the confusion of Tom's brother, Dick, has about sexuality. He is retarded and childlike mentally, but, physically, he is a man with desires that he can neither understand, discuss or demonstrate.
Tom Crick and his wife could never recover from the violent, seedy, botched-up abortion experience they shared in the Fens, which subsequently left Mary unable to conceive a child. They were also haunted by secrets they both held about the circumstances surrounding the death of Freddie Parr, which occured in their youth in the Fens.
The story provides a detailed account of Tom Crick's mother's family background, including the rise and fall of the Atkinson Brewery. The brewery prepared a "coronation" ale for the community's celebration of a new king. This special blend drastically changed people, making them wild. There was a night of fighting, mindless destruction of the town and the burning of the Atkinson Brewery. From one saved case of this cursed ale, one bottle killed Freddie Parr and another was consumed by Dick Crick, giving him the nerve to end his life to escape the reality that the maker of the ale, Tom's grandfather, was actually Dick's father, who conceived a child with his own daughter.
Every part of the novel ties together in an ingenious way. The writing style is absolutely stunning. It is a rare book that a reader is likely to wish, would never end.