• The Swimmer by Roma Tearne

    What should be a book about, love, loss, grief and the sense of home is hijacked by politics.

    The story centres around Ben, a 24 year old illegal immigrant from Sri Lanka, who has fled the civil war in his country with the help of his mother and his priest. Ben is a Doctor, although this doesnít seem to have any bearing on the story other than to reassert we should not prejudge asylum seekers; a common theme throughout the book. We hear his story of his escape through the words of his friend and lover Ria, and then from his Mother.

    Ria is a forty something single women living alone in an isolated house in Suffolk. She sees herself as a victim and is self absorbed and introspective, spending her time writing poetry and overanalysing her disappointments and losses. She has never quite gotten over the death of her father at the age of 10 and has a combative relationship with her younger brother Jack who became the focus of her grief stricken Motherís world. Her brother is embroiled in far right politics and has very strong views on immigration, so the conflicts that are presented are fairly obvious. She is not a sympathetic character. Her life changes when she meets Ben; he turns up working illegally on a local farm and has taken to swimming at night in a river outside her home, sneaking into her home to steal bread and play piano. For such an emotionally damaged person as Ria, she quickly draws him into her life and in the space of 2 weeks he is her life. Tragedy mired in prejudice, fears and politics ensue.

    The book is written in 3 sections, telling the same story through 3 different voices, Ria, Benís mother and finally Lydia (the final and again somewhat obvious twist), it's effective as it clearly illustrates how the same events can be seen so differently dependent upon your personal viewpoint.

    This book has much to say, but the beautiful storytelling, elaborate descriptive prose, specifically about the Suffolk countryside is marred for me by the grinding political and obviously very personal message from the Author, herself having come to the UK at the age of 10 from Sri Lanka. She has a message and she is determined for it to be heard.

    The final section of the book voiced by Lydia is beautiful and I would read this book just for the conclusion, however be prepared to be irritated and frustrated by the actions of both Ria and the Mother.

    2 wine glasses