Tag Archives: William Maxwell

#BookReview ‘They Came Like Swallows’ by William Maxwell #literary

Bunny Morison is eight years old and his mother Elizabeth is the centre of his life. Published in 1937, They Came Like Swallows is the second novel by William Maxwell. An autobiographical novella based on the 1918 flu epidemic seen through the eyes of Bunny, Robert and their father James, it’s a sensitive portrayal of the depths of family love not always outwardly expressed. William Maxwell This is a quiet character-led story about love, anxiety and grief, beautifully-written. I most enjoyed Bunny’s viewpoint, the simplicity and power of the love of a small child who sees things he doesn’t understand while sensing a significance. Thirteen-year-old Robert, first seen through Bunny’s eyes, seems a bully but is revealed in his own section as a boy approaching adulthood, protective of his pregnant mother and desperate to please his emotionally-absent father. And finally, James’s section shows the reasons for this distance. Each character is teetering on the edge of change, immersed in his own fears and hopes.
As the story unfolds we are introduced to the Morison’s wider family. Bunny dwells on his aunt Irene, Elizabeth’s sister. ‘… their hands felt entirely different and looked entirely different. From Irene’s hands he drew excitement, and from his mother’s the fact that she loved him. Irene and his mother were as different as the two faces of a coin. And yet they never seemed conscious of the difference.’ When their mother must go away to have her baby, Bunny and Robert go to stay with Aunt Clara, Uncle Wilfred and their Grandmother Morison. Robert, rubbing up against the house rules and being told he can’t do the things he wants to do, finds a dictionary hidden beneath the living room table. ‘Finding the wrong kinds of words in the dictionary was not a crime. They couldn’t put him in jail for it, but it was a thing he would not want to be caught doing, especially by Aunt Clara. It was like telling lies or listening to people who didn’t know he was there.’
A classic.
The title is from a Yeats poem:-
They came like swallows and like swallows went,
And yet a woman’s powerful character
Could keep a swallow to its first intent;
And half a dozen in formation there,
That seemed to whirl upon a compass-point,
Found certainty upon the dreaming air…
From ‘Coole Park, 1929’ by WB Yeats

Read my review of TIME WILL DARKEN IT also by William Maxwell and its First Paragraph.

If you like this, try:-
Anything is Possible’ by Elizabeth Strout
A Town Called Solace’ by Mary Lawson
The Pull of the Stars’ by Emma Donoghue

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THEY CAME LIKE SWALLOWS by William Maxwell #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5sD via @SandraDanby