This week sees the publication of Chloe Lane’s debut novel, The Swimmers. I was very excited to receive a review copy of this book having heard great things about it, including it being featured on the longlist for the 2021 Ockham Fiction Award.
From the blurb I could see there were many elements of this story that are of interest to me, as it explores family relationships and the way they are put to the test in the face of extraordinary, harrowing circumstances. When Erin, a woman in her twenties, heads to her aunt and uncles’ home for a holiday, instead of a break from the turmoil of the career and relationship issues back home in Auckland, she instead finds herself faced with something far more challenging. Erin’s Aunty provides care to her sister, Erin’s mother, who is terminally ill, with her health and quality of life rapidly deteriorating. With this in mind, her mother decides that she wishes to die on her own terms, and only in a matter of days, leaving Erin and her Aunty to assist in helping her carry out her final wishes. The turnaround from Erin’s arrival to her mother’s proposed plans is only a few days, and the novel is structured in such a way that each section lends itself to each day, which I thought worked really well in creating this sense of time and the events leading up to the final day.
Given the highly emotional and difficult nature of the subject matter, you would expect that this book would make for a heavy read. But whilst there were certainly moments that were melancholic, there were also lighter moments, and some darker humour. Perhaps an indication of the awkward human reaction in the face of life and mortality, a coping mechanism of sorts to distance oneself from the harsh reality of love and loss. Another way in which Erin processes her mother decision, and to try and come to terms with her grief is by returning to the pool – the swimmers of the title refer to the family’s history of competitive swimming. Something which bonds the women in the story, and is indicative of their strength and resilience. And as Erin and Aunty Wynn prepare for their loved one’s final moments, the story explores the relationships between mothers and daughters, aunties and sisters. The bond and the experiences shared, even when they don’t always get on swimmingly (little Dad joke there for you!)
There is additional intrigue along the way as Erin navigates the neighborhood, and comes into contact with some eccentric characters. Also, some key details concerning the family’s ability to carry out these final wishes are tied in with some other long held secrets which are simmering beneath the surface, which adds to the difficult task at hand, as these characters must come to terms with a myriad of emotions, and come to terms with the part they will play, and whether that is wrong or right, and what it means for their future.
I enjoyed The Swimmers and found it to be an immersive story which deals with some important issues and emotional subject matter, with plenty to reflect on as you turn the final page. It is to be published 19th May 2022 by Gallic Books, with thanks to Isabelle Flynn for providing a copy for review.