By: Deborah Levy
Format/Source: eBook; my copy
Poet Joe and his war-correspondent wife Isabel arrive with their daughter and another couple to a rented villa in the south of France to discover a body floating face down in the swimming pool. But the girl is very much alive. She is Kitty Finch: a sexy, mysterious young woman who walks naked out of the water and straight into the heart of their holiday. But why is she there? What does she want from them all? And why does Joe’s enigmatic wife invite her to stay?
This book caught my attention when it was long- and later short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2012. I mentioned this time and again when I review books that have been shortlisted for one prize or another but I do try to read a few from the long and shortlists, even if it does take me a year after the fact (sometimes/usually longer). But here we are, finally got around to reading Swimming Home (yay!) =) May contain some spoilers ahead!
Swimming Home is a curious look at five vacationing individuals in southern France and how the presence of the mysterious and strange Kitty Finch disrupts the fragile balance that each of them are holding on to. There’s a tension that’s already present in the group even before they discover Kitty floating about in their pool outside. Over the course of the week, the reader is given a glimpse of what’s going on in their heads and the issues that they are trying to tackle with, whether it’s financial or deeper issues of depression and fidelity. Kitty, despite of her own problems, is rather astute in figuring out other people, adding an air of mystery to her.
(As an aside, I really enjoyed her scenes with Mitchell, if only because Mitchell ends up all huffy and unsure of how to interact with her; I found it funny, and kind of like pay-back for his annoying attitude)
But despite of these glimpses, by the time I finished reading the book I realised that only Joe’s story advanced the most (without going into greater detail about his story). I never really got a sense of resolution or story/character advancement or the possibility of either from any one else present in the villa. I’m still trying to figure out what was the point of Madeleine Sheridan’s character cropping up here and there other than adding to the suspicion behind Kitty’s mental behaviour and general nosiness (her last scene in this book kind of had me sitting and wondering what was really going on with this retired doctor); at least Jurgen’s presence alleviated the tension of a scene, even if it was for a moment. What is interesting though about these characters were the different perspectives of certain situations or events, how one perceives something differently from the other (or at least, this was the sense I got in the case of Joe and Nina).
The prose was very lyrical. I felt this was the real highlight of the novel, moreso than the story itself. It adds to that sense of longing, loss and confusion that these characters are going through. Many of the characters in the novel can easily fall under particular stereotypes but the writing at least alleviated some of those characteristics.
Swimming Home overall was an interesting read, touching on some large issues and how it affects the characters assembled. The storytelling is pretty tight and ending was a little surprising and unexpected. The writing adds a sense of mystery and a sense of a sad beauty in relation to the themes of the story. At the same time, however, the writing can be so detached that the novel left me rather cold towards the characters. Nonetheless, I did enjoy reading it.