‘Swimming Home’ by Andrea Levy

An odd, elusive novella of a narrative, Swimming Home is a disconnect of a book, as languid as its summertime Alpes-Maritime setting, with barely a breeze disturbing the cicada-laden air. It’s 1994 and a melee of characters share a rented holiday home.

Just why the two couples and one daughter would choose to holiday together and spend a summer in each other’s company begs many a question, no matter what reason is given by Levy. These people have little in common and just do not like each other. So when famed war correspondent and stranger to her own husband and daughter, Isabel, asks the odd, naked botanist swimming in the pool to feel free to stay, things are going to unravel. And unravel they do.

What follows is a cold dissection. And whilst Swimming Home may be full of striking imagery with deep and meaningful symbolism populated by rich, fully crafted characterisation (remarkably achieved in such a short plot line), ultimately it begged the question as to whether we cared for any of the characters.

Jozef ‘Joe’ Jacobs is a famed poet and Holocaust survivor – and something of a bore in love with himself and his success. Wife Isabel is essentially absent: his main relationship is with 14 year-old daughter, Nina. Joe’s publisher, Mitchell, and wife Laura make up the numbers. The arrival of poolside Kitty is a catalyst for self destruct – it’s not long before it turns out she is nothing more than one of Joe’s fawning fans. Only this one is seriously disturbed, someone not ready to go home and start imitating someone she used to be.

This particular part of the Alpes-Maritime is an unpleasant world with little empathy. Rejection, failure, unpleasantness and a great deal of selfishness permeates every pore of the 160 pages or so.

Shortlisted for the 2012 Booker Prize, Andrea Levy lost out to Hilary Mantel and Bring Up the Bodies.

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