Swimming Home by Deborah Levy was plucked from my To Be Read pile. It was there largely because it was nominated for the 2012 Booker Prize. I had heard various things about it, both good and bad, but the real reason I wanted to read it was because it reminded me of the 2003 British movie Swimming Pool. Both are reputed to be thrillers, both are set in the south of France and both involve a young, nubile, uninvited guest. Now truthfully, I can barely remember Swimming Pool, but I would say the similarities end there.
Swimming Home was purported to be a psychological thriller. When it comes to literary fiction, perhaps that is what a thriller is, but the truth is, it did not keep me sitting on the edge of my seat. Rather, I would classify this novella (it is very short) as a character study. The core of the story revolves around Kitty, an uninvited and psychologically troubled guest at a holiday villa occupied by two middle aged couples and a 14 year old daughter. Kitty is found swimming naked in their pool one day and is invited to stay out the rest of the week with the family. Ostensibly the reason Isabel has invited Kitty to stay is so that she can ‘catch’ her husband in a compromising position and end their marriage.
I said I would classify Swimming Home as a character study, for that is what I imagine it is trying to be. The problem is that most of the characters are not fully flushed out. Early on we get the sense that Kitty is odd (and has a propensity for nudity), but the depths of her psychological problems are not fully explored. Instead she seems slightly ‘touched’, as Isabel describes her. In particular, Laura and Mitchell, the couple with whom the family is sharing the villa, seem like cardboard cut outs. In many ways, Swimming Home feels like it was left unfinished. The premise of the story is engaging, but it just doesn’t pan out.
Who would like this book? I love reading novels that give the reader a sense of place, especially when that place is somewhere far away. All of its other weaknesses aside, Swimming Home made me want to beeline it for the south of France. Levy really conveyed the feeling of a lazy holiday in the summer heat. In that sense I think it would make a good holiday or beach read. For me, it provided a quick bout of escapism (and warmth) when I needed it.