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Book review: <i>The Lost Swimmer</i> by Ann Turner

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the cover of the book

Rebecca Wilding has it all – a great job, a handsome husband, and two successfully grown up kids. Her husband, Stephen, has been acting a little odd, but hopefully their holiday to Europe will cure any small ills in the relationship. However, Rebecca's problems can't be written off as small ills, and by the time she figures out how deep they are it might be too late...

The story

Rebecca and Stephen Wilding are in a comfortable routine now that the kids have left home. They have a lovely house by the sea, and both work at Coastal University, with Rebecca taking on Head of Department in Classics and History. Stephen, an Economics professor, is seemingly pleased with her success, but Rebecca is quickly discovering that University politicking is fraught with danger, intrigue, and much higher stakes than she thought possible. Priscilla Chiton, Dean of Arts, was once Rebecca's friend, but now seems determined to thwart her at every turn, and Rebecca is just trying to save a couple of jobs and make money the old fashioned way.

Rebecca desperately needs Stephen's advice, but he's spending inordinately long days at work. Or perhaps somewhere else. Rebecca suspects an affair, but wonders if she's just being paranoid. Luckily, the two of them have planned a European tour, covering Rebecca's favourite archeological Greek digs, and both have lectures to give in other countries. Rebecca is convinced that this time away will bring them closer together, healing wounds that have cropped up in their marriage.

But Rebecca is thrown a curve ball. Embezzlement has been committed in her department, and it looks as though it's been done in her name. Priscilla tells her an investigation is pending, and enquires whether or not she really thinks it's a good idea to leave the investigation and go to Europe. Rebecca maintains her innocence, she has her own money problems at home when she suspects Stephen's been playing the stock market. When she arrives in Greece, she confides in some old friends, and they try to help her get to the bottom of the fraud and Stephen's infidelity. But is this a situation that can be remedied, or will life as she knows it change forever?

The style

The Lost Swimmer is absolutely gloriously written, and that is not an exaggeration. There is actually a letter to the reader at the beginning of the book from Simon and Schuster, which talks about how great the book is, and when I read it as a precursor to the book I thought Jesus, this is a bit much, I mean how good can the bloody book be? But my apologies to the Simon and Schuster team, they're right to have a bit of a gush about it. In the description of the plot I wrote above, which was tough because I didn't want to give any of the twists away, I haven't adequately managed to sum up how tightly written and evocative the story is. That particular plot line could be written in a manner that screams average, but it is anything but in the hands of Ann Turner.

The story is written from the point of view of the main character, Rebecca, who narrates with a naked honesty which compels the reader to want more. Her story leaves nothing out – is she paranoid about her husband, or is he legitimately hiding something? Her descriptions of herself, and her observations of the world around lend her a sympathy I wouldn't usually experience for that kind of character. Were she not so well written, I might find her hysterical and irritating, and blind to hard truths. Instead, I find myself utterly wrapped up in the story, firmly on the side of Rebecca, but always wondering what she is leaving out of her own narrative because of the conscious nature of her telling. It's amazing. It's not my usual genre or style, but the voice, storyline, and the plot itself kept me utterly entranced up till the end. It had just the right edges of paranoia and realism, and it's well worth the read.

And I do also just need to give a mention to the sense of place. Everyone knows I'm a sucker for Australian literature, and this novel has an utterly authentic feel. The sense of place, the characters, the petty academics who struggle at a small Australian university for a sense of importance that exists only within their fields – all excellent. There's even a kangaroo, and it feels right and proper. Aussie literature for the win.

Who is this book for?

Treat yourself. This is contemporary Australian literature which deserves a place on our bookshelves. I suppose it may appeal more to women than men from a subject-matter view point, and also to an adult readership versus a young one, but honestly, this book could be enjoyed by anyone.

If you like this book, you would also like...

I guess we'd be looking at Tim Winton, or other iconic Australian authors who provide something unique and well told, making a mountainous story out of molehill events in the best possible way.


In short

Title: The Lost Swimmer
Author: Ann Turner
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Australia
Year published: 2015
Pages: 278
Genre(s): Contemporary literature
Review Type: