They Came Like Swallows – William Maxwell


They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell. I chose to read this book because Cornflowerwas reading it for her book club – of course they had all finished it before I even started. It was a difficult book to find in Australia, but eventually I tracked down a copy in Borders.

It was set in America just after World War One – during the time of the Spanish Influenza – and it’s about the relationship between Mothers and Sons and to some extent husbands and wives.

It is written in three parts – each from a different point of view. The first section is written by Bunny the younger child, the second by Robert the oldest and child and the third by James the husband.

The novel is really about the relationships these three have with Elizabeth the wife and mother. Bunny is a quiet, gentle and introspective child whose Mother is the centre of his world. Robert is an active child who is embarrassed to have a brother like Bunny, but he feels protective of his mother and finally James loves his wife and children, but he doesn’t really understand his children – that’s Elizabeth’s role.

There is a slightly menacing tone to the novel – Spanish Influenza is ravaging their town, Elizabeth is pregnant and the births of her previous two children have been dangerous. It is decided that she needs to go to another town (to a specialist) to deliver this child and the two boys will stay with James’s sister. Schools and churches are closed and people are warned to avoid unnecessary travel and to avoid congregating in groups to try to stop the spread of the influenza. James and Elizabeth must catch a train to the hospital and, of course, the worst happens they both contract influenza. Elizabeth dies, after giving birth to a little girl, and James survives although he wishes he was dead.

It probably sounds depressing, but I enjoyed this novel. It had a gentle style and I enjoyed reading something set in the early 20th century (almost an historic novel). I will be looking for more of his novels.

There is a great review at

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review

One Response to They Came Like Swallows – William Maxwell

  1. Pingback: My BookClub Reviews » Blog Archive » So Long, See You Tomorrow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.