It's summer when Elm Hill lido opens, having stood empty for years. For Natalie Steele - wife, mother, teacher - it offers freedom from the tightly controlled routines of work and family. Especially when it leads her to Lara Channing, a charismatic former actress with a lavish bohemian lifestyle, who seems all to happy to invite Natalie into her elite circle.
Soon Natalie is spending long days at the pool, socialising with new friends and basking in a popularity she didn't know she'd been missing. Real life, and the person she used to be, begins to feel very far away.
But is such a change in fortunes too good to be true? Why are dark memories of a summer long ago now threatening to surface? And, without realising, could Natalie have been swept dangerously out of her depth?
The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish is published by Michael Joseph (Penguin) in hardback and ebook on 5 May 2016, and is the author's twelfth novel. The paperback will be released on 28 July.
Last April, I read and reviewed Louise Candlish's last novel; The Sudden Departure of the Frasers . I really enjoyed that book, a mix of darkness and suburban living. In The Swimming Pool, the author has continued that theme, and this really is a gripping story that cleverly looks at friendships and taking risks.
Natalie Steele is looking forward to spending the long summer holiday by the pool at the newly opened lido in Elm Hill, the only difficulty and danger that she can foresee is her thirteen-year-old daughter Molly's intense fear of water. Molly has suffered with aquaphobia since she was just eighteen months old when she was involved in a terrifying incident at the local park. Natalie and her husband Ed have explored every available type of therapy and counselling to try to help Molly, but so far, nothing has helped. Natalie also feels an overwhelming feeling of guilt about what happened to her daughter all those years ago.
The opening of the new lido also opens up new and unexpected opportunities for the Steele family. Natalie meets Lara, the beautiful, rich, glamorous woman who was the driving force behind the re-opening of the abandoned pool. Lara and her friends inhabit a new and totally alien world, one that Natalie always scorned before, but there is something about this bright, glittery woman and her bohemian lifestyle that draws Natalie in, and it's not long before she is basking in Lara's shadow, teetering on the edge of the group, abandoning her old friends, and appearing to betray her long held beliefs and principles.
Simmering under the surface of what appears to be a long, hot and glorious summer is a darkness and brooding feeling that affects the reader almost immediately. Louse Candlish chooses to tell this story in a very clever way. We know that the date of 31 August is very important, we know that something terrible has happened, but we don't know what. Every so often, throughout The Swimming Pool, the author hurls us back to 31 August, to remind us that despite the outward appearances, things are not going to turn out well. We accompany Natalie as she tentatively enters her new friendship circle, often wondering how a seemingly intelligent and down to earth woman could be entranced by such a shallow, albeit entrancing woman. The reader is also privy to events that happened many years ago, when Natalie herself was a teenager, events that she has kept hidden from everyone, things that she feels ashamed of and is desperately trying to forget.
Louise Candlish is a huge talent. The Swimming Pool is beautifully written, with a pull that grips and does not let go. I was convinced that I'd worked out exactly what was happening, and who people really were, only to have the wind knocked out of me as this author expertly throws in the most unexpected of twists, turning the whole story on its head.
At its heart, The Swimming Pool is about friendships, especially female friendships. It looks at how women can compartmentalise their friends, putting them into different slots of their life, depending on who else is around, and where we are. Louise Candlish explores how this behaviour can backfire and especially examines the conflicting thoughts of a woman who is torn between steady and familiar, and new and exciting. Natalie is a complex and interesting character, events in her teenage years have shaped her later life, but in The Swimming Pool she appears to be replicating the heady, dangerous days that she tries to forget, yet on reflection, seem very alluring.
Louise Candlish is a fabulous writer and The Swimming Pool is quite addictive. So dark, yet so perceptive, I loved it.
My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.
Louise Candlish studied English at University College London and worked as an editor in art publishing and as a copywriter before writing fiction.
Though her stories are about people facing dramatic dilemmas, she tries to live an uncomplicated life in London with her husband and daughter.
Find out more about Louise Candlish and her writing at www.louisecandlish.com
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Follow her on Twitter @louise_candlish