The TripFiction Book Club July/August ’19 reads ‘A Summer Reunion’ by Fanny Blake
Thriller set in LONDON plus we chat to author Louise Candlish
10th June 2016
The Swimming Pool by Lousie Candlish, thriller set in London.
There are a surprising number of outdoor pools – lidos – dotted around London, and as Louise Candlish demonstrates in her latest novel, a lido is a perfect setting for a pacy read. It is the sultry Summer in South London in 2015.
“A swimming pool is a great stage. It’s such a symbol of pleasure and yet you can never escape the potential for danger”
Natalie is a vexing but likeable lead in the story as she stumbles from one ill-judged decision to the next. But essentially she is a little hapless, where one move is compounded by the next, all under the radiant benevolence of her new found friend, Lara Channing, a cut above in beauty and class. It is Lara, a swimming champion in her day, with a minor film to her credit, who has spent two years masterminding the renovations at the derelict lido near her house. She is a mover and a shaker and has a sunshine personality that radiates beneficently over those in her orbit. Natalie is drawn like a moth to light. She forges ahead with the new friendship at the expense of her older long-standing friendship with Gayle. Soon her husband Ed is feeling the edge of her friendship, the family life is sidelined whilst she spends time with the lovely Lara.
There are flashbacks to Natalie’s childhood, 1985, when she was in thrall to a similar aged girl in her grandparent’s home village of Stoneborough. These two have troubled personalities and vent their collusive power over other youngsters in the area. Natalie clearly likes to anxiously attach to others and bathe in the power of others. At times so biddable that she loses her moral compass.
Daughter Molly is entering the terrible teen years and due to an accident as a child, a near drowning incident, she cannot go near water. All kinds of therapies have been tried and Lara takes it upon herself to find the therapist who will address and sort the problem. Rather than see this as a controlling mechanism, Natalie is enchanted that Lara has taken such an interest in her daughter’s well-being. Ed is not immune to the Channing charm and agrees to tutor their daughter during the Summer months; but gradually there are tiny indicators that all is not as it should be. Ed withdraws, Natalie ploughs on regardless and the story culminates in a Pool Party hosted by Queen Bee Lara. And we know that something terrible has happened very early in the book, and it is only through a number of twists and turns that things come to a shattering climax.
A gripping read that you may (if you are brave) choose to read by the pool on holiday.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
Over to Louise who has agreed to answer our questions:
TF: The “lido” in London went out of favour in the later 20th century and many went into severe disrepair. Now they are being restored. What drew you in particular to this amazing location as the stage for your storyline?
LC: I’d had my eye on my local lido for a while, aware that it was stirring ideas. They are like little kingdoms, there atmosphere completely self contained. I’d previously set a book in communal gardens (The Second Husband) and enjoyed the claustrophobic sense of a regular cast of people you can’t escape. A neighbourhood pool has that too, but also brings into the equation naked flesh, a bar serving alcohol, deep, crowded water. I like the tension between well-being and danger, glamour and seediness. The evening is my favourite time; it feels very noir.
TF: I found the time shift in the book very manageable – it is mostly set in the Summer of 2015 with flashbacks to 1985 when Natalie was almost a feral teenager. As an author, I imagine it must be very hard to dovetail different time periods in a book – how did you go about working out the logistics of the plot?
LC: You’re right, it was hard! I knew I was going to have three strands in the story: the main strand, which is the duration of the summer of 2015; then the present day, which is the morning after the accident; finally, the summer of 1985. The juxtapositing took an awful lot of trial and error. Sometime it felt like doing a jigsaw blind, I had only the feel of the edges to try to fit scenes together. The summer of 1985 is only a few scenes, but they are important ones and I had to put them in the right place. I think the more complicated the plotting is, the more effortless it needs to feel, otherwise people will lose track and give up.
TF: You deal with the subject of victim/bully, and how the past is often never laid to rest. Natalie recalls some of the more vivid adventures that happened over the Summer of 85, how past can very much influence the present, in terms of who we have become – this is clearly something you feel strongly about…?
LC: Much as we sometimes wish we could, we can never shake off the triumphs and disasters of childhood. You don’t have to be a qualified psychiatrist to know that there are formative years, from about twelve onwards, when you start to take on wider influences. Abandonment is an issue for Natalie. She was palmed off on her grandparents for a whole summer and she sees this as the cause of her crimes with her friend Mel. Her adolescent tendency to fall under the spell of a stronger character has endured. Lara Channing is glamorous and intoxicating, but is her effect so different from that of the unbeautiful, overtly cruel Mel?
TF: I found Natalie quite a likeable character, despite her – at times – terrible (and actually self-centred) decisions and judgement calls. How did you work out her psychology?
LC: I’m glad you like her as I know her behaviour will draw a range of judgements. I constructed her quite benignly, very much in the tradition of the hapless hero. (Which is how I see myself too, as it happens.) All her long-held restraint is swept away by her obsession with Lara. It’s like falling in love, a peculiar, pleasurable fever. Psychologically, it’s a perfect storm for her: she’s met the wrong person at the wrong time and promptly makes all the wrong decisions. She quickly forgets herself and the people who should matter.
TF: The cover is very striking – it follows the format of 1/3rds which I understand is optimal for cover design (the figure in the top third, the title in the middle and your name stands out on the lower third). How much did you get involved with the design?
LC: That’s interesting re optimal design, I didn’t know that. There is often a wrangle with covers and I have sometimes disliked mine, but with this one I liked it straight away and didn’t need to be involved. The Penguin designer has done a brilliant job. It’s a very powerful photograph, it’s quite creepy, I think. The photographer has been in touch with me, so I now know the pool in the picture is an outdoor one; a seawater pool in Tenerife.
TF: You capture the sense of London in the summer and must therefore be very familiar with the city. What are your top tips as someone who knows the metropolis?
LC: I’ve lived in London for almost thirty years and seen it change beyond my wildest imaginings. The main difference now is how oversubscribed everything is: the transport system, the galleries, the parks, the theatres. Even buying a coffee is a competitive sport. So it’s hard to be spontaneous. My advice to a visitor would be to be organized: book your tickets and slots, get to places early. Go to the lidos and ponds and lakes, walk the Thames path, explore south of the river. London is underrated as an outdoor city.
TF: Are you yourself a keen swimmer? And how did you research the medical impact of being submerged in water (no spoiler here, I hope, as we learn fairly early on that something has gone terribly wrong!)?
LC: I am a self-taught swimmer and therefore limited in my abilities. It wasn’t hard to describe Natalie and Gayle killing themselves to do their ten lengths. I do love swimming, especially outdoors, whether in a lido or in the sea. The sensation of sun on damp skin is the definition of summer for me. In terms of the medical consequences of the accident in the book, I researched online and in the library. The present-day strand takes place on a bank holiday Monday and I got up early one bank holiday and went to my local hospital, King’s in Denmark Hill, to hang out and get all the details right.
TF: What is next for you in terms of writing and in terms of travel?
LC: I’m in the very early stages of another novel, also set in south London. This is the fifth in a row (The Day You Saved My Life, The Disappearance of Emily Marr, The Sudden Departure of the Frasers, The Swimming Pool), I’m getting like Anne Tyler and Baltimore. I have no travel plans, but will almost certainly go to the Ile de Ré this summer, because that’s where we always go and, as I say, I seem to have become a creature of habit.
And for more books in LONDON, just click here
Conde Nast Traveller picks London’s Loveliest Lidos here – can you spot which one might have been the inspiration for this book?