What could be more appropriate than reviewing a book called “The Swimmers” for Swim Press? The only thing is, this book isn’t really about swimming…
TW: Suicide, assisted suicide
I was grateful to receive The Swimmers as a gifted copy from Gallic Books through a giveaway. Immediately I knew I’d have to review it for Swim Press: it felt criminal not to. But, contrary to my expectations, this book isn’t really about swimmers, or swimming, or water. Which seems odd considering the title. The only connection is that the main character’s family used to be competitive swimmers and she used to swim as a child before giving it up. If I were to sum up this book through its themes, I’d say it’s about dysfunctional family dynamics, grief, love, life, and assisted suicide.
The cover baffled me at first. I thought: where is the water, the swimmers, the pool? But the piece of artwork on the wall is very symbolic in the novel as Erin is an artist who ends up stealing a piece of artwork from her aunt’s neighbor after she stayed the night with no intentions of seeing him again. It’s this piece of art which causes trouble when the police turn up to the aunt’s door the day they are planning to assist Erin’s mother’s suicide.
The book follows Erin as she travels from Auchland to visit her family for their annual celebratory lunch for the Queen’s birthday. Set in New Zealand, I liked how the main character was visiting her aunt, uncle and cousin as I have an aunt, uncle and cousin who live in New Zealand. Erin then finds out upon arrival that the festivities of the weekend also included assisting her mother’s suicide as she no longer wanted to live with motor neuron disease. The book tells the events of the days before, during and after her Mother’s death.
The raw emotions and mundanity of this book made everything real and honest. Erin’s connection with her mum was so special and heartbreaking as she knew those were the last days she’d ever spend with her and it made her crave all the lost time that had been wasted with her mother when she went away for work and hardly visited. Most of my favourite books are about relationships, from family to friendship to romance. And this book dealt with, in some way, all of them. This is not a cheerful book, if you hadn’t already deduced, but it’s very cleverly written and poignant.