I have always wanted to go to a lido.
I know not why I haven’t.
There used to be one near me: Cliftonville Lido, in which Tracy Emin herself learned to swim.
But oddly, I don’t consider myself a particularly good swimmer.
I digress! If you are a lido frequenter, or outdoor swimmer, or even if you can’t remember what chlorine smells like, you will find much of yourself in this delightful debut. That’s the beauty of the novel: you can take from it what YOU want. And that’s the way it should be: I’m not exactly shouting, ‘The author is dead!’ at you, as once was shouted at me in an Eton classroom, but the more scope there is for a reader to choose what to identify with, the better. You may be a Kate; you may be a Rosemary. You may be a George; you may be a Jay. You may be an Erin; you may be an Ahmed.
So The Lido – water novel! (Sorry, had to be done.) Despite not being a massive fan of present tense prose, I adored this tale of journalist Kate battling loneliness in London. Asked by her boss to cover the story of Brockwell Lido’s threatened closure, she finds an unlikely inspiration in the form of 86 year old widow Rosemary, who has swum at the lido all her life. Slowly, she starts to live rather than merely survive: she cooks again, instead of preparing a ‘ping’ meal; she dips her toes, literally, in the lido; she throws herself into a cause bigger than herself. And ultimately, that was the biggest success of the novel for me: that if you need saving, find a cause to fight for, and remember than only you can save you.
Anyone who has experienced the shakes, sweats and sheer terror of a panic attack will find consolation in Kate. The fear grips her at the strangest of time and places, and that’s the thing about anxiety: it does not discriminate. I have had a panic attack at work twice; the first time, I said I had toothache, the second time, I told no one. Both times, I left and drove down to the sea. Because it’s immensely comforting to find, at times of distress, something which is so much bigger than you and your anxiety, which has been there before you felt like this, and will be there afterwards. Perhaps the sea is my lido.
But who is my Rosemary? I had an actual Rosemary, in the shape of my A-Level Latin teacher. She was frighteningly clever and Jean Brodie-esque, and I was one of her creme de la creme. In some ways, she did a lot for me, but for reasons too private and complicated to mention here, she cannot be my Rosemary. I’m going to swim against the tide here (sorry) and nominate my dad as my Rosemary. He has been there for me at the best and the bleakest of times. When I suffered crippling depression during my Finals, he came and slept on the floor of my poky university room. When my heart was broken, he came and stayed at my house. When I got a 2:1, he yelled triumphantly down the phone; the people of Coventry still complain of hearing problems. My dad, who never had a dad and didn’t have much of a mother, has been there, unquestionably, all my life.
Thank you to Rebecca Gray at Orion for sending me the proof and inviting me to join this blog tour, and to Libby Page, who has stood up for all the infallible heroines.