Waterland | Critical Essay by David Leon Higdon

This literature criticism consists of approximately 18 pages of analysis & critique of Waterland.
This section contains 5,190 words
(approx. 18 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by David Leon Higdon

Critical Essay by David Leon Higdon

SOURCE: "Double Closures in Postmodern British Fiction: The Example of Graham Swift," in Critical Survey, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1991, pp. 88-95.

An American critic and educator, Higdon is the editor of Conradiana. In the following excerpt, he analyzes Swift's use of closure in Waterland and his other novels.

'One beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with,' notes the protagonist of Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds (1951) and, he continued, 'a good book may have three openings entirely dissimilar and inter-related only in the prescience of the author, or for that matter one hundred times as many endings.' In the years following this comment, the sense of closure in contemporary British fiction has become more and more problematical. The traditional terminology of closure—open, closed, multiple, reflexive—no longer seems appropriate to or adequate for the fictions of postmodernism. Indeed, we may well be at a point of crisis similar to that experienced in the nineteenth century when the open ending evolved to meet needs the traditional closed ending could not, especially since philosophers of the postmodern, such as Jacques Derrida, have argued that 'closure is not only not desirable, but also not possible.' Theorists of the postmodern [such as Brian McHale in his 1987 Postmodernist Fiction] have even turned to phrases such as 'the sense of a (non-)ending' to deal with the evidence.

Consider the following quotations.

From Margaret Drabble's The Realms of Gold (1975):

So there you are. Invent a more suitable ending if you can.

From David Lodge's Changing Places (1975):

Well, that's something the novelist can't help giving away, isn't it, that his book is shortly coming to an end? It may not be a happy ending, nowadays, but he can't disguise the telltale compression of the pages … I mean, mentally, you brace yourself for the ending of a novel. As you're reading, you're aware of the fact that there's only a page or two left in the book, and you get ready to close it.

From Antonia S. Byatt's The Virgin in the Garden (1978):

Waiting and patience, of this inactive kind, did not come easily to him. Or to Frederica, he decided, without much sympathy for her. He gave her a cup of tea and the two of them sat together in uncommunicative silence, considering the still and passive pair on the sofa. That was not an end, but since it went on for a considerable time, is as good a place to stop as any.

From Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea (1978):

My God, that bloody casket has fallen on the floor! Some people were hammering in the next flat and it fell off its bracket. The lid has come off and whatever inside it has certainly got out. Upon the demon-ridden pilgrimage of human life, what next I wonder?

An Excerpt from Waterland

And Mary looked at me—how can I convey that look which seemed to pile years upon her and strip them from me (and she still does it—or rather did it—my mother-wife who packed her husband off to school)? Mary looked at me and said: "It's not all right. Because it wasn't an accident. Everything's changed."

And what did your history-teacher-in-the-making do after taking in these words and receiving that gaze? He looked around at the innocent fields and dykes and saw in them treacherous conspirators. He couldn't bring himself to face the face which faced him and which seemed to be accusing him of childish stupidity. He threw a (childish) tantrum. He kicked the brick base of the former windmill by the Hockwell Lode. He marched up the bank of the same Lode, savagely tearing up as he went a clump of grass, and stood at the top of the bank, throwing bits of that same torn-up clump, equally savagely, this way and that. So he was still in the same mess, after all—just as he was thinking that a neat phrase had hauled him out. Just as he was succumbing to the illusion that everything was all right, like it was before, and they might even, inside the ruined windmill … And she had to spoil it all.

As if it were all against him, this conspiracy. As if being guilty, as if having to accept that what has happened really happened and can't unhappen, were a kind of unjust trick played upon him.

Another seized-up clump of grass. The future history teacher indulges in histrionics. He struts and fumes like a true male member of the species. Are you watching me, Mary? Can you see how outraged I am? Throws more tufts of futile grass into the air. Stares at the Lode (the sheeny eye of the Lode stares back at him). While Mary stands at the bottom of the bank, arms drawn round herself, not really noticing, not impressed. He's alone. She's alone. He's blustery-raging alone; and she's rooted, patient alone.

He turns. On this warm July afternoon he suddenly feels cold. Suddenly he knows for certain that the fear he felt by the river-bank and in his own locked room four days ago can't be allayed by two official words—nor by seizing up and throwing to the wind each and every tussock along the Hockwell Lode. He descends the Lode bank. He stands before the motionless girl. He would have liked (hated too) this sixteen-year-old, warm-bodied, stern-eyed, ten-weeks-pregnant, no-longer-curious creature, in whom he sees suddenly qualities of iron, to hold him. But her arms stay wrapped round her own shoulders. He sits down, weakly, at the foot of the bank. She remains standing. He looks up and asks (he wants someone suddenly to come up with the answers): "You told him. You told him. So what are we going to do?"

And Mary says firmly: "I know what I'm going to do."

And turns and leaves him sitting beneath the bank and doesn't move her head or speak when he gets up and shouts: "What's that then, Mary? What are you going to do? Mary—?"

Graham Swift, in his Waterland, Poseidon Press, 1983.

From John Fowles's Mantissa, (1982):

'If we could only find some absolutely impossible …'

'Unwritable …'

'Unfinishable …'

'Unimaginable …'

'Endlessly revisable …'

'Text without words …'

From Anthony Burgess's The End of the World News (1983):

'All right,' he said. 'Class dismissed.' They went running off for their protein and syntheveg. They had forgotten the story already.

From the chapter titled 'Against Endings' in Maggie Gee's The Burning Book (1983):

Words beat on against death. Our bright lives beat against ending … Always beginning again, beginning against ending.

And from Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot (1984):

if novelists truly wanted to simulate the delta of life's possibilities, this is what they'd do. At the back of the book would be a set of sealed envelopes in various colours. Each would be clearly marked on the outside. Traditional Happy Ending; Traditional Unhappy Ending, Traditional Half-and-Half Endings; Deus ex Machina; Modernist Arbitrary Ending; End of the World Ending; Cliffhanger Ending; Dream Ending; Opaque Ending; Surrealist Ending; and so on. You would be allowed only one, and would have to destroy the envelopes you didn't select. That's what I call offering the reader a choice of endings; but you may find me quite unreasonably literal-minded.

Quite obviously, one question foregrounds itself in any consideration of these quotations, or the dozens of others which could be collected to illustrate the same practice. What has caused this problematicalness? Is it a philosophical shift in the culture? Is it a psychosexual symptom? Is it an aesthetic malaise? One question and one answer suffice for an individual author. For example, Margaret Drabble told one interviewer [as recounted in Yukako Suga's The Tradition of Women's Fiction: Lectures in Japan (1982)], 'I have never yet dared to end a novel of mine with death or suicide because I feel that what I create I shall become,' and John Fowles has written [in The Aristos], 'The mystery is not in the beginning or the end, but in the now. There was no beginning; there will be no end.' These individual answers, however, lack validity for the larger cultural phenomenon.

No discussion of closure can ignore Frank Kermode's difficult but elegant The Sense of an Ending, because in it Kermode lays bare the intellectual investment a culture makes in the conventions of closure practised in its arts. Arguing that fiction, like larger philosophical systems such as Marxism or Christianity, offers a concordant structure which enables those beings living between the tick of a beginning and the tock of an ending to make sense of the sequence, Kermode enables us to see endings for the sense-making devices they are, as the assertions of meaningful order they affirm. Endings, he argues, mediate 'between paradigmatic form and contingent reality'. Closure is a device, then, 'which, by the provision of an end, makes possible a satisfying consonance with the origins and with the middle'. By the 1980s, theorists and critics were arguing and often demonstrating very conclusively that this was precisely what postmodernist texts did not do, that they deliberately evaded such closure. Ihab Hassan, for example [as quoted in Charles Newman's The Post-Modern Aura: The Act of Fiction in an Age of Inflation (1985)], concluded that 'Postmodern Literature moves in nihilistic play or mystic transcendence, towards the vanishing point, and critics as diverse as David Lodge and Linda Hutcheon were concluding that postmodern closure disconcerted because of its insistent refusal to create any type of concordance to mediate between art and life. In discussing what he called the 'problematic ending' [in Working with Structuralism], Lodge asserted that the postmodernity offers 'the multiple ending, the false ending, the mock ending or the parody ending' so that it can affirm the 'plurality of orders, or an absence of order' undercutting the claim 'for the fiction's realism, verisimilitude, or "truth to life'". [In her A Poetics of Postmodernism (1988)] Hutcheon argued forcefully that postmodern fiction freely admits 'intellectual contingency', but remaining 'neither uncertain nor suspending of judgment it questions the very basis of any certainty'. 'In implicitly contesting in this way such concepts as aesthetic originality and textual closure,' she writes, 'postmodernist art offers a new model for mapping the borderland between art and the world'.

Has any author, though, managed to create a type of closure which successfully combines the postmodern sense of the human being perpetually en passant with the aesthetic demands for some type of boundary? To date, the best examples of such a synthesis appear in the novels of Graham Swift, author of The Sweet-Shop Owner, Shuttlecock, Waterland, and Out of This World. Swift has created a type of 'double closure' for his novels, an ending wholly in keeping with postmodern narratology, yet one providing a firm, clear response so often outside the boundaries of the open ending.

Waterland, his third and most accomplished work, is a truly extraordinary novel, as significant to the 1980s as The French Lieutenant's Woman was for the 1970s. Powerful, ambitious, technically accomplished, Waterland is simultaneously a murder confession, a history of England's fen country, an indictment of the modern world for its ignorance of history, an essay on the life of the eel, a meditation on the shapes of time—in short, a grim intertwining of incest, suicide, and murder played against two hundred years of family history and an apocalyptic sense that time may be coming to an end. Furthermore, it clearly foregrounds its search for meanings, because half of its chapters begin with the preposition about. In the telling, the narrative offers not one, but at least six moments of closure, without becoming another example of the multiple-ending novel.

Waterland brilliantly realises the full range of possibilities inherent in first-person retrospection. Its narrator and protagonist, Thomas Crick, is a fifty-three-year-old history teacher about to be retired from the school where he has taught for thirty-two years. Also, Mary, his wife, has suffered a breakdown, heard God speaking directly to her, stolen a baby from its pram outside a Safeway in Lewisham, and been confined to a mental institution. Loss of a spouse and a job, two of the most traumatically stressful events that can happen to an individual, have left Tom feeling discarded and discredited, questioning his worth as a person and the worth of his profession. But before this story line can move to closure, Tom must explore the causes of these events.

Tom has totally deserted his syllabus and now spends his class periods telling his seventeen students what happened to him and those around him in 1943, the year which so blighted his future that his life up to 1979 has been utterly empty. Because of its sensational content, Tom's story could not but hold his class's attention as he recounts the things gone very awry in his past. He and his older brother, Dick, are the children of a lock-keeper on the River Leem, who had been disabled in World War I, and his wife, Helen Atkinson Crick, who died in an influenza outbreak early in 1937. At least this appears to be accurate. In actuality, Dick is the product of Ernest Atkinson's mad, incestuous desire to father a 'Saviour of the world' by his daughter, Helen. Dick is retarded, a true water-person, who finds more companionship with his motorcycle and river dredger than with humans. Tom, on the other hand, is intellectually gifted, a promising scholar, marked as a land-person by this intelligence. The crucial events in their lives occur between August 1942, when Mary Metcalf, a neighbour girl and later Tom's wife, begins to explore 'holes and things' with the Crick boys and Freddie Parr, and 25 July 1943 when Freddie Parr's corpse floats into the Crick sluice-gate. Again, appearances belie a more complex reality. Exploration of 'holes and things' has led to Mary's pregnancy, probably by Tom; however, she tells Dick that the baby is Freddie's. Dick gets Freddie drunk, clubs him in the head with the bottle, and pushes him into the river to drown. Tom glimpses the bruise on Freddie's forehead as they pull the body from the water and quickly deduces that his brother is a murderer. Sometime in August 1943, Tom and Mary arrange a clandestine abortion at the hut of Martha Clay, reputed fen witch, which leaves Mary sterile, until she hears God's voice in 1979 and steals the baby sent as a replacement for her dead child. Tom knows that his life has been ruined by these events; he knows that he has lived in a wasteland because of them; he knows, too, how he will be judged once his students know the entire story. In the opening paragraph of the novel Tom obliquely begs for understanding if not forgiveness, telling his students: 'whatever you learn about people, however bad they turn out, each one of them has a heart, and each one of them was once a tiny baby sucking his mother's milk.'

As he has told his students, an inquiry into history is indeed an inquest. The word was chosen with almost excruciating exactness, because Tom must eventually confess that he has murdered his own brother. His story is a mystery to be solved, even though the story-teller wishes to evade the central facts of the mystery. At a key moment in his narration, Tom inwardly says: 'I confess my responsibility, jointly with my wife, for the death of three people …'. The first victim is obviously Freddie Parr, the second the aborted foetus, and the third, though not named, is Dick. (Tom is not technically guilty of the first and the second crimes, but he takes on an excessive burden of guilt because of his relationship with Mary.) Using his superior intellect as a weapon against his less able brother, Tom drives Dick to take his own life. Motivated by fear, sibling rivalry, and sexual jealousy, Tom floods Dick's mind with information he knows Dick cannot handle: that his grandfather was actually his father, that Mary's baby was not his, and that he and Mary did not actually achieve 'lu-lu-lu' love.

Waterland thus consists of two intertwined stories, as do all of Swift's novels. There is the story from 1943 which blighted their lives; then there is the story detailing the impact the telling has on the characters in their present situation. Narrating the past, the so-called 'talking cure', generally has a freeing, healing effect on the narrators in Swift's novels, as it does in life, but in Waterland, Swift has so positioned the closure of the two stories that a sense of melancholy, even defeat, pervades the novel.

The story of the present moment ends first, and it ends on a muted note of victory, because it tells Tom and the reader that though the events of 1943 may have ruined four lives, the telling of them has freed others. Henry Price, a student who has repeatedly challenged Tom over the value of studying history, comes particularly to interest Tom. One day, they stop in a pub, share a drink or two, discuss the Holocaust Club which Price leads, and quite unexpectedly, Tom introduces Price as his son to the bartender. Like Mary, Tom has found or been sent a replacement. This meeting gives Tom a full opportunity to explain to Price his cyclical vision of history as a constant warfare between structure and chaos. Particularly, he tells Price that 'this thing called civilisation … is precious. An artifice—so easily knocked down—but precious'. This discussion flowers during the Easter Term assembly when, as the headmaster is bidding a hypocritical farewell to Tom, Price's Club begins to chant: 'Fear is here! Fear is here!', and Price himself shouts, 'No cuts! Keep Crick!' Crick has won a major victory for himself. He has wrung from his own painful story a burst of enlightenment for Price and can retire knowing that he has passed his sense of history's value and the necessity of defending civilisation on to another generation. Unlike Mary, unlike Helen, Tom may have kept alive the idea of a saviour of the world. This, in a postmodernist work, is no small victory.

This ending, however, occurs in Chapter 48; there are four more chapters to the novel, and the actions in these chapters virtually overshadow Chapter 48 for most readers. Tom has already recounted the abortion, his revelations to his father, and his 'education' of Dick. Yet to come is Dick's suicide/murder. The final chapter shows Dick fleeing on his motorcycle to the dredger where Tom, his father, and several others see Dick dive under the dredger in 'a long, reaching, powerful arc' and never surface. Given the powerfully charged language in the description of Dick's act, it is difficult to see the act through Tom's eyes as being anything other than a victory, with Dick 'obeying instinct' in returning to the water, because his dive forms 'a single, taut and seemingly limbless continuum … here indeed was a fish of a man'.

Dick's death exists on both figurative and literal levels, because Dick plays a crucial role in the symbolic patterns of the novel. Tom has two boys in his control: Price, the intellectual land-person, and Dick, the very embodiment of the water-person and all the uncivilised irrationality water has come to symbolise in the novel. In 'killing' Dick, Tom loses his innocence, purges himself of considerable guilt, but unknowingly cuts himself off from part of his very being. Dick is a sacrificial victim, but he is also a part of existence that Tom strives to deny, even though it is crucial to his models of being and history. It is Tom's tragedy that he has never managed to reconcile fully himself the forces and powers represented by Price and Dick until so late in his life.

The two endings recorded in chapters 48 and 52 are opposed, but utterly co-joined. The 1943 ending appears to be classically closed by the several deaths, yet it is not closed because it generates the actions of 1979. Tom and Mary are compelled by it as firmly as are the characters in the hands of the gods in classical tragedy. It would not be inappropriate to apply Aeschylus's formula, 'from suffering, knowledge', to Swift's protagonist. The present ending, on the other hand, is classically open with Tom having experienced a significant moment of epiphany through the words of Price. We actually have an example of double closure in which it is virtually impossible to resolve the dialogue between the endings. The one ending shows Tom vindicated, but the other ending shows the price paid.

The terms 'open ending' and 'closed ending' shudder and collapse under the text itself which so clearly shows that the 1943 closed action, bounded by three deaths and two withdrawals from life, actually generates the 1979–80 action, and that the latter is clearly as 'open' as Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Sons and Lovers, and To the Lighthouse in that Price and Tom Crick share a significant epiphanous moment—but, can one actually envision a future for Tom in the way he can for Stephen, Paul, or Lily? Paradoxically, the open ending appears to be closed and the closed ending open. The two moments of closure taunt one another across the distance of thirty-seven years, held in suspension, neither being able to resolve the narrative tensions created between the inner and the outer situations, a point emphasised generally by Mikhail Bakhtin when he wrote [in 'Epic and Novel', The Dialogic Imagination (1981)], 'the absence of internal conclusiveness and exhaustiveness creates a sharp increase in demands for an external and formal completedness and exhaustiveness, especially in regard to plot-line.'

This pattern is duplicated, with expected variations, in Swift's other three novels. The Sweet-Shop Owner, his first novel, ends with what must surely be definitive closure: its protagonist, Willy Chapman, dies, a suicide cleverly disguised as an unexpected angina attack which, in truth, Willy provokes through undue physical exertion during the day, his daughter's birthday. In brilliant double tracking, however, Swift juxtaposes Willy's death with his 1931 mile run for his school. As he rounds the final turn in the race, Willy thinks: 'Began his final spurt early. That was unexpected…. Pain in the chest. To be expected'. He becomes aware that he is being overtaken by Jack Harrison, his future brother-in-law, and, fifteen yards to go, thinks, 'All right. Now'. Did he win his race with Jack; does he win his race with death? Was his defeat a victory in some way? The two endings hang suspended in moments unresolved in time, as in Waterland; obviously a bit less sophisticated structurally, but no less successful.

Shuttlecock, his second work, differs in a number of important ways from the other three novels, but in it Swift found a fully mature voice: a first-person narrator, a mystery frame, and the complex relationship between the past and the present—of man caught in the interstices of history. Its protagonist, Prentis, senior staff assistant in the Dead Crimes Division of the London Police Department, is so awed, even intimidated, by his sons, his war-hero father, and his sinister, potentially malicious, superior, that he has become paranoid, thinking that his son is spying on him, his father betraying him through silence, and his superior, Quinn, playing mysterious mind games with him, in much the same fashion that Samuel Beckett's Mr Knott plays with Watt. The key to these mysteries, Prentis feels, lies in a 'correct' reading of Shuttlecock, his father's war memoirs. It can be seen from this that the novel coils reflexively back upon itself.

The moments of enlightenment occur though in ways that defeat traditional closure. At one point, Prentis imagines that human actions move one 'as through the mouth of a lobster-pot … almost without exception, one-way only'. He comes to see, however, that his father—and any author—has been caught between conflicting demands of the text, 'because in writing it he is actually torn between the desire to construct this saving lie and an instinct not to falsify himself completely—to be somehow, honest'. This is precisely the struggle John Berger in G argued was the postmodern author's dilemma: to 'either converge upon a final full stop or else disperse so widely that it will become incoherent…. The writer's desire to finish is fatal to the truth. The End unifies. Unity must be established in another way'.

Shuttlecock finds a solution by refusing 'truths', by impeding the finality of its double moments of closure. The reader and the protagonist alike become fairly certain that the war memoir, which ends with Prentis's father, a triumphant escapee from the Gestapo, being rescued by the American Seventh Army 'miraculously', probably cloaks the reality of betrayal and treason. When Quinn, however, puts in Prentis's hands the missing files which could provide Prentis the certainty for which he seeks, Prentis refuses to read them; instead, he burns them, self-consciously opting for ignorance. 'The best, the securest position to be in is not to know'. Quinn has told him, and he agrees that 'suddenly I knew I wanted to be uncertain, I wanted to be in the dark'. He even extends an invitation to join him to the reader: 'How much of a book is in the words and how much is behind or in between the lines?… Once you have read it, it may be better not to peer too hard beneath the surface of what it says—or … what it doesn't say'. Shuttlecock is one of those rare novels in which willed ignorance brings the feelings of freedom and release so frequently associated with the epiphany of the open ending.

At first glance, closure in Out of This World, Swift's most recent novel, appears to be undeniably open. In it a daughter boards a plane in New York City to fly to London where she will meet her father, estranged from her for the ten years following her grandfather's assassination by a terrorist's bomb. Both father and daughter are looking forward to the meeting. Sophie wants to 'throw [her] arms around him and feel his arms round mine. Harry Dad Father'. Harry's letter to Sophie telling of his forthcoming marriage, with its expressions of hopes, opens the way to the reunion. The reader, however, never witnesses this reunion, but rather leaves Sophie suspended somewhere above the Atlantic as Harry recalls an incident from the autumn of 1928 when his father took him on an airplane flight from London to Paris and back for an Armistice Day celebration, 'a piece of public play-acting but a genuine, faltering attempt at fatherliness'. Once again, Swift makes a heavy symbolic investment in a scene only tangentially related to the main action, a scene much like Willy's mile run, the escape, and Dick's suicide, but how appropriate a scene it is. The reunion of Sophie and Harry is an armistice, an end to their ten years' hostilities, and it is framed by the loving action of one father, foregrounding his child, to affirm his child's importance, worth, and independence. We need not see the actual reunion, because it has been played before us almost parabolically. In all four novels, the key to understanding the present resides in a crucial moment in the past, a moment crucially defining the protagonist's life and a moment rendered numinously symbolic by the connections established over the span of years.

As Graham Swift's narrator comments in Waterland, 'There is nothing like a good ending to turn mourning into smiles, and stop the asking of a thousand questions', surely the postmodern equivalent of George Eliot's Mrs Meyrick who reads 'the list of marriages [in her newspaper because they give] her the pleasant sense of finishing the fashionable novels without having read them, and seeing the heroes and heroines happy without knowing what poor creatures they were'. Moreover, since the line is stated with considerable irony, it offers a close view of postmodern desires: namely, that a 'good ending' is indeed one which encourages 'the asking of a thousand questions'. Swift does not offer an aesthetics of closure in his novels, but they do offer a consistent practice of a perpetually unresolved tension in which 'But it's not all … though it's over, that's not the end of it' (Waterland) becomes a description of how postmodern novels evade the ending without evading closure.

An Excerpt from the Sweet-shop Owner

Dorothy. Why did you have to come into the shop? To disturb those patterns? To see my look of disguised excitement, faint apology, as I greeted you from behind the counter? To hear the catch in my voice as I said, 'Mrs Cooper, my daughter Dorothy'? You could have got the bus as far as the Common Road, but you got off in the High Street, in your blue uniform and your blue beret, a satchel under your arm, and walked down to the corner of Briar Street. To see me without Irene? To see if I was any different without her?

Half-past four, five o'clock. Under the brightening lights, through the deepening dusk, other children were going home from school, in groups, in reckless gaggles, but you always seemed alone. Even when you came in flanked by your friends—Sally Lyle and Susan Dean—you stood apart, untouched by their boisterousness and their forwardness, watching them giggle at the counter and say, 'Oh, Mr Chapman!' as I slipped them free chocolates. Though anyone could see, of those three, you were the prettiest, the one who most deserved to be to the fore.

You watched me arrange the toys in the Briar Street window. For they were arriving now, picked from the wholesalers' catalogues, in boxes that rattled and squeaked and threatened to jerk into imitation life. Meccano and Lego, Yogi Bear dolls and model kits of the Lone Ranger. There was a frown on your face as I clambered into the window with them. A man of fifty fussing over toys? But it was my job to sell them. You stood with your arms holding that satchel in front of you and your fingers tapping restlessly on the leather, for you never quite knew what to do with those long, delicate hands. You'd let them fall awkwardly by your side and sometimes one of them would reach up, just like her, to your throat, but you'd remember suddenly and let it drop quickly again. 'Here,' I said, 'put that satchel down, you can help.' And you were in two minds whether you ought to or not. I got out from the box the set of three little clockwork chimpanzees. Each wore a hat like a fez. One had a pipe, another a tambourine, another a pair of bongos, and when you turned the key in their backs their heads swivelled and their arms moved. 'Where should they go?' I said. And you said, hesitating at first, and then with a little sharp decision, 'Why not there?'—and pointed to the display rack over the counter above my head. I hung them there, Dorry (you see, I didn't question, didn't hesitate). And later, when I'd sold three sets of those monkeys and people pointed to the ones above me, I said, 'No, they're not for sale.' 'There,' I said, fixing them, 'like that?' But you looked away.

Graham Swift, in his The Sweet-Shop Owner, Washington Square Press, 1985.

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