Lead Review

  • Book: The Swimmers
  • Location: United States (USA)
  • Author: Julie Otsuka

Review Author: Tina Hartas



An easy to read and short novel that packs a punch. The first section is devoted to an amorphous group of people who swim regularly in a subterranean swimming pool. Down there, there is quite a community, perhaps not an intimate one but nevertheless a functioning society – individuals who come to plough through the lanes (in a regimented anti-clockwise direction) as a form of escape and calibration, a place where people can be themselves. Above, perhaps in the ‘real’ world, life continues, noise and fires and pollution and life in all its forms.

Then one day a crack appears in the pool and the proverbial ripple effect of the fracture – not serious by all accounts – gradually sweeps through the community, affecting individuals in a variety of ways.

The second section is devoted to life in Belavista, a home for those who travelling down the dementia and infirmity road. It is recognisable, the author has clearly has spent time in the community with all the foibles and oddities and the fading in and out of life.

The third section then drills down more on a specific elderly mother, whose daughter visits her. She was once one of the swimmers in the pool. The author sweeps around looking back on her life, the relationship with her daughter, and how those who are on the outside deal with their lives whilst she is – to all intents and purposes – incarcerated, never to leave. She lost a child shortly after birth, she has glimmers of recollection. But it seems clear that she is living with frontotemporal dementia.

This is a story of the individual within community. That, like a goldfish bowl, no-one can really be on their own. It is sad and poignant and ultimately quite depressing, as everyone comes to terms with the permutations of the end of life.

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