In his newest novel, acclaimed author Graham Swift marries the erratic devastations of reality with the elusive probability of magic under the lights of vaudeville, a story of delicate illusions where what one chooses to believe can unearth the most revealing connections.
It's the summer of 1959, and something magical can be witnessed at the end of the pier in beach town Brighton, England. Jack Robbins, Ronnie Deane, and Evie White are performing in a seaside variety show, starring as Jack Robinson the compere comedian, and The Great Pablo and Eve: a magic act. By the end of the summer, Evie's glinting engagement ring will be flung to the bottom of the ocean and one of the trifecta will vanish forever.
All three friends begin their path toward the end of Brighton's pier early in life. Evie and Jack's mothers always trumpeting the support that is trademark of stage mothers, while Ronnie's mother sends her son out in the child evacuations to Penny and Eric Lawrence for safety from the London blitz. It's within the safety and love of Evergrene, the Lawrences' estate, that magic creeps into Ronnie's life for the first time and starts the intricate intertwining of fate, chance, and show business.
Magic and reality share the stage in this masterly and devastating story that pulls back the curtain on the power of love, family, and the touchstones of our memories.
Saturated with images and metaphors that recur like melodies, this jewel of a novel by Booker-winner Swift (Last Orders) conjures the shared past of a group of entertainers who performed together in 1959. In seaside Brighton, England, 28-year-old showman Jack Robinson hires his old army buddy, the magician Ronnie Deane, to be part of his variety show. The enigmatic magician in turn hires the lovely Evie to jazz up his act, and soon puts an engagement ring on her finger. Jack's show becomes a success, with Ronnie and Evie's set as "the Great Pablo and Eve" the major attraction, though from the beginning, Swift hints that there will be no happy ending for the "lopsided trio." In Swift's trademark fashion, his close-third narration intertwines each character's perspective to construct the tragic story in seamless transitions, gradually revealing past transgressions and sources of pain as time bends back on itself. A now elderly Evie mostly looks on from the present, while chapters on Ronnie deepen Swift's bittersweet tone by following Ronnie's journey as a boy sent during the London Blitz in WWII to live with a beloved surrogate mother and father, from whom he learns his craft. Swift's brief, magical tale demonstrates one more brilliant example of his talent for pulling universal themes out of the hats of ordinary lives.