Judging by the reaction to the Longlist announcement I am one amongst many delighted to see some smaller publishers represented on the list. Swimming Home by Deborah Levy is published by And Other Stories. They offer a subscription to their list that allows them to be highly selective about what they publish. This has quickly borne fruit, both in the quality of their books and having a title on a major prize list. Congratulations are well deserved, I think.
And so to the book. Swimming Home is a deceptively simple tale of a summer holiday. A dysfunctional family rent a villa in France. Famous poet father, war correspondent mother and teenage daughter are joined by family friends Mitchell and Laura. Their uneasy relationship is utterly destroyed by a body floating in the pool. The body belongs to Kitty Finch, botanist and ardent fan of Joe’s poetry. Her still, naked body brings to the surface all the tensions between husband and wife, parent and child, friend and acquaintance that have long been smothered and left to fester.
It’s a dark tale of resentment, lust and betrayal. Tragedy is obviously nearby, destruction looms menacingly, but where or how it will strike is unclear. All the characters have major faultlines, the janitor and next-door-neighbour as well as the family, that could rip apart at any moment. The book is tense, the atmosphere amplified by the sparse style. We live a week with these people, getting to know their thoughts and emotions. There’s so much potential for tragedy it is hard on the nerves, but so compulsive. I almost allowed myself to believe the worst could be avoided, hoped that this odd group could emerge unscathed from their unenviable vacation. I’ll say no more than that, and allow you to tread warily along with them for yourself.
I think this is an excellent book. The doom-laden, claustrophobic air is reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith’s Stranger on a Train or The Talented Mr Ripley, both of which I adore. The book opens on a mountain road at midnight, and this part of the tale acts as an infrequent refrain throughout. I enjoyed this gradual telling a great deal. It is just one of many things that make this a book to recommend. I’d be thrilled if this made it through to the shortlist.