It’s summer when Elm Hill lido opens, having stood empty for years. For Natalie Steele – wife, mother, teacher – it offers freedom from the tightly controlled routines of work and family. Especially when it leads her to Lara Channing, a charismatic former actress with a lavish bohemian lifestyle, who seems all too happy to invite Natalie into her elite circle.
Soon Natalie is spending long days at the pool, socializing with new friends and basking in a popularity she didn’t know she’d been missing. Real life, and the person she used to be, begins to feel very far away.
But is such a change in fortunes too good to be true? Why are dark memories of a summer long ago now threatening to surface? And, without realizing, could Natalie have been swept dangerously out of her depth?
The Swimming Pool had quite an impact on me – not because it’s hugely emotional or overly dramatic (though there is plenty of drama) but because the characters really sucked me in. They seemed like real people, and people you might be able to imagine meeting in certain areas of society, but most are unthinkable to the ‘average’ person as someone you’d think ‘Ooh, I’d want to be friends with them’. (Well, I certainly wouldn’t anyway… though the parties do look fun!)
I’d read The Sudden Departure of the Frasers and really enjoyted it, so I hoped this would be another well-written novel with a good few twists and turns – and I wasn’t disappointed!
The Swimming Pool draws the reader into a whirlwind of gossip, envy and desperation, inviting you into the world of the wealthy – and though some characters are wealthier than others, everyone seems quite privileged to just be living in the area itself. You can tell Natalie and Ed are certainly not living on the breadline, and live a comfortable – if at times a little dull, in Natalie’s opinion anyway – life. But is this enough?
The narrator, Natalie, is one of those people that make you wonder whether she’s actually a nice person or not. Though she’s not part of Lara’s gang of high class, incredibly rich socialites, she really, really wants to be. She seems to look up to them so much, and this desperation, coupled with the way she treats her family and friends in trying to get closer to Lara, makes people turn against her. We also learn about a chequered past many summers ago, and though Natalie seems the most remorseful of the two, she’s certainly no angel.
Louise Candlish manages to convey Natalie’s sense of desperately trying to better herself – and no on can really blame Natalie for just doing that – whilst still showing how foolish and single-minded she becomes as the novel goes on. I was shouting at her ‘NO!’ a lot of the time inside my head, as I could see her shrugging off her own friends and even her own husband to spend more time with this new group of people whom really, she barely knows.
The narrative jumps back and forwards in time, from after the ‘incident’ at the pool, to the weeks leading up to it and then further back to Natalie’s youth. I found it all easy to follow and the tension Candlish creates as the weeks led up to the event was really effective; you feel yourself understanding the way many characters are feeling as if you’re that person – another testament to the author’s great writing! Lots of pool-related metaphors and adjectives but all done in a subtle and endearing way.
There is a good dose of mystery in The Swimming Pool; from wondering what exactly happened those many summers ago when Natalie was younger, to trying to figure out exactly why Lara seems to interested in Natalie (and many twists and turns along the way), the story keeps you guessing and I really liked that. It managed to do all this without compromising on the quality of writing, meaning I really enjoyed this book. A great summer read!