The Night Swimmer is the story of Elly and Fred, a young couple from Vermont who win a pub in southwest Ireland in a contest. This book is, in part, a story of the end of their marriage. The rest of the story is the tale of being outsiders in a small Irish coastal town. The pub itself is on the mainland, but Elly ends up spending most of her time on a nearby island in order to indulge her love of swimming in open water.
The openingof the book, which covers Elly and Fred’s early years (they meet as literature graduate students), sucked me in. I was expecting the book to be the story of the train wreck of their marriage like Revolutionary Roadby Richard Yates, which Bondurant references early in the book. The fireworks are minimal, though. By the time the couple moves to Ireland, they essentially live apart: Fred on land in the pub, trying to write a novel, and Elly staying on a nearby island and swimming.The book invokes Cheever in a number of ways. Elly, the narrator, wrote her thesis on The Journals of John Cheever, excerpts of which begin every chapter of the book. Instead of swimming in suburban swimming pools like the main character in “The Swimmer,” Elly swims in the sometimes-treacherous open waters. This also feels like Cheever in that the story is of an unhappy couple. Elly and Fred fit the bill, and Fred may even be slightly mentally ill with his obsession with building his own gun, as the time-traveller in his novel will do.Finally, the last pleasure of the book is the evocative setting. Elly describes the weather, the water, the land, and the people of the small town and small island beautifully. There is a bit of a gothic aura to the story of the islanders too.I finished the book slightly disappointed because I wanted a bit more of a plot or a more vicious showdown between Elly and Fred, but that’s not what this book is about. It’s a mood piece of a faltering marriage and of the couple being shunned by the locals and of the wonders of swimming off the south Ireland coast.
THE NIGHT SWIMMER by Matt Bondurant
Publication Date: January 10, 2012
Source: Publisher via NetGalley