The Swimming Pool
by Louise Candlish
Publisher: Michael Joseph / Penguin
Publishing Date: 5th May 2016
Source: Copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Number of pages: 400
Genre: Literature/Fiction (Adult)
The thrilling new novel from bestselling author Louise Candlish.
It’s summer, and for teachers Ed and Natalie Steele this means six weeks off work with their young daughter Molly. Their lives are predictable and uncomplicated — or at least they were until they meet the Faulkners.
Suddenly, glamorous Lara Channing, a former actress leading an eccentrically lavish lifestyle, is taking Natalie under her wing and the stability of summer takes an exciting turn.
But are there hidden motives behind this new friendship? And when the end-of-summer party at the lido is cut short by a blackout, Natalie realizes that she’s been kept in the dark all along.
Last year I read and loved „The Sudden Departures of the Frasers” by Louise Candlish, so much in fact that the book made it to the list of my top books in 2015. I adored the tension, the writing style, the way this story was built and keeping this all in mind I was impatiently waiting for Ms Candlish new release, „The Swimming Pool”. It is similar in tone to the previous novel, and in the end I found it absolutely gripping and compelling, and loved how the story developed – you knew something is not right from the very beginning but till almost the end you don’t know who does it involve. Molly? Natalie? Lara?
I am really not sure if the author wanted us to like the characters but you can also like the book without liking them! For me it was truly incredible how well the author captured the relationship between Lara and Natalie, this unusual friendship. It was crystal clear for me that it is a friendship with benefits, benefits for Lara. She belongs to this category of people that I personally don’t like, the Queen Bee, a person that wants to know everything and everyone, behaving like an Ice Queen and choosing people she wants to befriend, making others feel jealous and seek her friendship. She was toxic and I had a feeling that I can’t breath in her company. I could go on and on about her, as she was really brilliantly portrayed, just like the other characters, and I am truly awestruck with the author’s ability to create such complex heroes, but I don’t want to spoil the reading for you, as I’m sure that something would escape me, and I don’t want it!
Louise Candlish also develops the relationship between Natalie and Ed throughout this summer with consequences. I must admit that I had some problems with Ed, as well as with all the other characters of course. Yes, he relatively quickly read the real Lara, he had his doubts but he himself was so hard to crack. I truly didn’t know what to think about him, almost to the end, there was something that was pushing me away from him and I couldn’t trust him. Natalie… Well, Natalie, I think she was so bored of her role of a mother, wife and teacher that she just jumped on the chance to have a relatively exciting summer for once and nobody can blame her for this, right? However, the way she jumped on this chance, the way she so quickly fell under Lara’s spell was more appropriate for a teenager than for an adult woman, but yes, I know, these things happen, very often, and I couldn’t stop admire how well Louise Candlish described how Natalie was besotted with Lara and how she craved her attention, how she started to be obsessed with her, alienating everybody around her only to be with Lara and what she was prone to sacrifice to be accepted in the Channings’ friends’ circle. However, I never warmed to her. I might have fell for her and had sympathy for her but never warmed to her. Mostly I wanted to shake her, to be honest, and put some sense into her as she’d seen things that she wanted to see, and all the rest became secondary to her. But – and this is what fascinated me so much, how great the author has written this – I could also see the attraction and somehow, I understood Natalie. We all want to have our own five minutes in live, right? To feel special and important.
Also, I’ve never warmed to Lara. I had a feeling that she’s hiding something, that her interest in Natalie is not serious, that she wants to befriend her only to achieve something – so just like toxic people are, they work their way up using other people. But she also fascinated me and I wanted to see what’s hidden under the facade and what skeletons does she have in her own cupboard. She seemed so very perfect and leading perfect life, she was rich, successful, and whatever she did, turned into success, just like opening the lido. There was a moment that I started to suspect something about Lara and started to think that she might be a person from Natalie’s past, even earlier than Natalie herself started to think this way but – needless to say – I was of course wrong, the author took me by surprise.
Why is the swimming pool itself so important for the story? Well, Natalie and Ed’s daughter Molly has aquaphobia, so when they hear that the new lido in their neighbourhood is going to be re – opened, they are all a little anxious. The action mostly takes place around the lido and water and as much as I love water and swimming I have a big respect of it, just like with the whole nature, so I really could imagine how all the people involved feel. Quickly it becomes clear that the biggest drama is also going to happen with the lido in the centre, as the author touches upon some issues that I was aware of but didn’t know that you can take to such extreme, such as making a competition of keeping your breath under water as long as possible. Keeping in mind Molly’s fear of water I really felt the tension and I just could feel with my whole persona that something is going to happen at the lido.
The story must jump between past and present so that we have a chance to learn what happened in the past and to start feeling unsure about everything. There are flashbacks to a summer when Natalie was a teenager and when something happened, something that still haunts her, something that makes her afraid to visit her mother and grandmother. But there was really this overwhelming feeling that something big is still going to happen, even though we already know that san accident took place already, as the book starts with it. However, the tension is built in a crippling way and until the climax we are truly kept in the dark. Yes, of course, I was trying to guess but in the end I didn’t have a chance, as everything that I thought turned out wrong – this story was one big surprise, it was full of twists and turns and I really didn’t know what to expect when I turned the page.
Louise Candlish is a fantastic psychologist and can brilliantly dig into people’s nature and inner thoughts. I’m not sure if I would say that this story is about friendship because in the end it turned out that it wasn’t friendship at all, but nevertheless, the author in a fantastic way submerges into the complicated depths of female’s nature. She wonderfully and realistically captured a toxic relationship where one woman must sacrifice almost everything to bask in glory of other woman’s feelings, described how it is to be torn between your family and some kind of sense of loyalty to a stranger. This story has so many surfaces and layers, it’s explores a long term marriages, dullness of life and then how it can quickly change when a glamorous and exciting friendship heave into sight. It is told also in a complex way, but I didn’t have any problems to follow the sudden switches between the past and present. We know that the date of 31 August is very significant, that something very bad happened then but we must wait till the end to see what exactly happened.
What I so liked in this book was the unpredictability of it. I think nobody could foresee what’s going to happen next, neither we, readers, nor the characters. „The Swimming Pool” was really a book that took my breath away and I was totally immersed in it. There is intrigue in it, mystery, secrets and brilliantly well drawn and complex characters. The author kept us on our toes till the end that was incredibly tense and made me feel uncertain, but also very neatly tied up and I finished reading feeling very satiated and satisfied. The plot was clever, intelligent and the story was well paced. The way this story unfolds, relatively slowly but very tense, is great. Yes, there were moments that I felt the narration is much too descriptive and when it should focus on the really significant things, it wanders off the course and sometimes I struggled to keep on track with the story, but altogether the pace is right for this novel. The writing itself is so brilliant and the tension is palpable in every word and makes me question what IS there in this strange friendship between Natalie and Lara and what is future going to bring. Ms Candlish has a great talent to get into the characters’ heads, to describe their most hidden feelings and thoughts and thanks to this I was caught up in their lives so very much. She writes them with all their flaws and she doesn’t make them very likeable, but first of all she makes them authentic and true to life, sharply describing their ups and downs. She doesn’t make them straightforward and she lets you think that you know them all so well – people, as well as the dogs – even though in the end you start to question your own knowledge and start to doubt. Which is brilliant! I love such complexity! It’s demanding, it’s difficult but I LOVE it! Highly recommended!