The Swimmer is yet another read I found through the Orange Prize Long List for 2011 and as I loved it so much I am relieved to see that it is the author's fourth novel - so I will now be able to go back and read her earlier books.
In some ways The Swimmer focuses intensely and directly on the lives of a few people but one of the things I loved about it was the way in which the author broadened her focus to allow the book to say so much more about important global issues such as fear, war, racism and the plight of refugee people.
One of the stories in The Swimmer is the story of 43 year old poet, Ria. Ria lives in a small English coastal village - separated from her husband after they were unable to have a child Ria is grieving the loss of her relationship and her sense of self while trying to write her next book of poetry. The house she lives in is a bequest from an uncle and aunt and is the cause of much conflict between her and her younger brother Jack who would like to see Ria sell the home and share the profits with him. Ria is tied to the home by her love for her uncle and aunt and her much beloved father who died when Ria was a child. The home is much more than a house to Ria - it brings her a sense of comfort and sanctuary. The house is also the place where Ria first meets Ben, a Sri Lankan doctor who has escaped the violence of his home country to come to England in the hope of building a peaceful and productive life for himself only to find that violence and prejudice has found him in this new country.
A tender, beautiful and tentative relationship begins to form between Ria and Ben and we learn more about each of their pasts through their getting to know each other.
I won't say anymore about the book for fear of ruining the drama for those of you who would like to read it for yourselves - and I would definitely encourage you to do this.
I felt this book carried so many powerful messages - on reflecting maybe it tried to cover too much for one small book but at the same time I felt that the narrative and the story itself never lost it's intensity or its purpose - a wonderful read.