An octogenarian and a young journalist unite to save a neighborhood pool in London in this debut novel.
In many ways, this meditation on community and swimming follows in the footsteps of the enormously popular A Man Called Ove. Both books have an older protagonist—in this case, 86-year-old Rosemary—who has been recently widowed. Both highlight the unexpected benefits of new friendship at this stage in life. Both are charming and heartwarming. But Ove has teeth. What this novel offers instead is an abundance of lively detail and sweetness. The Brixton neighborhood of London is the setting, and it is delightfully immersive. Sitting in Brixton’s large public park, the swimming pool of the title is not fancy, but for the characters involved, it is miraculous. Swimming is a baptism; after a dip, troubles are more bearable. Rosemary in particular has a long history with the pool, having swum there as a child during the war when most other children were evacuated and regularly with her husband, George, throughout their marriage. But it is Kate, the novel’s other protagonist, who undergoes the greatest transformation. She begins as a chronically depressed, anxious, and friendless young journalist and ends as the leader of the charge to save the pool from purchase and privatization. That goal is what first leads Kate to Rosemary, then bonds them, then opens Brixton to her as a place she can call home. The plot is straightforward, as is, for the most part, the story of Rosemary and George’s courtship and marriage, told simultaneously. Rosemary's miscarriages (ultimately, they have no children) and George’s death are barely touched on, seemingly in favor of happier memories of swimming, of which there are countless.
The stakes feel low, but the water’s fine.