Review: Swimming Home by Mary-Rose MacColl

 

Title: Swimming Home

Author: Mary-Rose MacColl

Published: Allen & Unwin September 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from September 27 to 30, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Swimming Home is the sixth novel by Mary-Rose MacColl, her previous book In Falling Snow was a favourite read of mine in 2012.

Exploring the themes of family, belonging, regret, and redemption, Swimming Home is a gracious and engaging novel.

When fifteen year old Catherine is orphaned, her aunt, Dr Louisa Quick, insists she abandons her idyllic island home in the Torres Strait and move with her to London. An independent and busy surgeon, Louisa is determined to provide her niece with the opportunity to become a well educated and successful young lady, but Catherine is miserable in her exclusive day school, missing the warmth of her Islander family, and the ocean. It’s not until Catherine swims the width of the Thames on a dare and Louisa is approached by the enigmatic banker Manfred Lear Black, that she reconsiders her plans for her niece.

As a doctor, Louisa is intelligent and confident, but she struggles to relate to her niece and, uncomfortable with emotion, she makes some poor decisions when it comes to seeing to Catherine’s well being. Though there is no malice intended, Louisa’s actions have far reaching consequences and she suffers a crisis of conscience as the novel progresses. Louisa is not a particularly likeable character at times but I think MacColl portrays her well, and I was sympathetic to her flaws.

Catherine is resigned to her new life in London and wants to please her aunt, but she is lonely and homesick. Having spent almost everyday of her life swimming in the ocean, she jumps at the chance to swim to under Manfred Lear Black’s patronage in New York. I felt for Catherine, whose loving and idyllic childhood came to such an abrupt end. She is remarkably stoic, but her longing is palpable and she obviously feels out of place, London contrasts sharply with her island home, as does the New York ‘tanks’ to her beloved ocean.

There are two subtle threads of mystery that run through the story, and a few surprises in the plot though Swimming Home progresses at a measured pace. What action there is stems largely from the Black’s determination that Catherine will be the first woman to swim the breadth of the English Channel. MacColl weaves fiction with fact as she writes of Catherine’s competitors, including Gertrude Ederle who was the first woman to swim the channel in 1926 and I enjoyed learning something about the birth of competitive swimming for women.

Set in an interesting period, with complex characters and a thoughtful story, Swimming Home is a finely written, poignant and pensive, but ultimately uplifting novel.

 

Swimming Home is available to purchase via

Allen & Unwin Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Amazon AUvia Booko

and all good bookstores.

 

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: October 2015 Roundup: Historical Fiction | New Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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