‘Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we’ll all get home safely’
-Deborah Levy, Swimming Home
Swimming Home has been part of a backlog of books I have wanted to read for a while now- and I completed it in less than 24 hours. It’s been a while since I was so glued to a book I couldn’t put it down, but Swimming Home definitely made that list.
I felt as if this novel would be hard going when I began it and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get into it. The style and tone isn’t something I’d usually go for, but this feeling dissipated within the first few pages. Initially, withheld information can be slightly confusing, but as you go along the picture the novel creates becomes increasingly clearer. The ending wasn’t entirely what I expected, and came as a slight shock- I actually gasped. But when you reflect on the novel, and what you’ve read, it becomes obvious that this was what was coming (I’m trying my best to avoid spoilers here).
The story follows Joe, Isabel, their daughter Nina, and their friends Mitchell and Laura, as they move into a villa in the hills above Nice for the summer. Only to find a naked woman swimming in their pool. A woman with long copper-coloured hair, green nails, and a penchant for plants: botanist Kitty Finch.
Kitty is a character that took some time for me to warm to, but I think will be staying with me for a while to come. The novel looks at the effect depression can have on people who appear to functioning completely well on the surface; Kitty is the character most obviously struggling with depression, admitting to Joe that she has stopped taking her meds, however I felt as if many of the characters were struggling psychologically when you looked closely enough. As you read on and realise this, it builds an intense, unstable atmosphere, which feels ready to topple over at the slightest push towards the close of the novel.
Don’t get me wrong: this novel is beautiful, but it doesn’t romanticise depression in the way many other books that tackle the topic do. There are no tragic teenage girls who come out with mysterious riddles, aimed at adoring male protagonists, only to lead up to a whopper of a cliff-hanger- this novel makes clear how serious an impact depression and mental illness has on those it affects, and those around them. It’s the language which makes the story beautiful, and as someone who writes poetry, it was immediately obvious that Levy has a real control over the world she creates with her words. It was a refreshing change, and the ending leaves you with a sadness somewhere deep in the pit of your stomach that is incredibly hard to forget.
This is a short read, but it has a lot of impact on the reader. There’s a lot left unsaid in this novel, but I feel that’s somehow appropriate for the topic, as many unfortunately still experience depression as having stigma attached to it.
Having read Swimming Home, I’ll definitely be picking up some more of Levy’s books very soon.