The Swimmer by Roma Tearne

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The Swimmer by Roma Tearne

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Three women cope with love and grief in a story set in a brillintly evoked Suffolk. The writing is exquisite and the story a real page-turner.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Harper Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0007301591

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Ria, a solitary, middle-aged poet, was idly watching the river one night when she saw a swimmer. It wasn't just the time of day which was unusual, but the river was hardly clean – and then she heard a noise downstairs. In this remote part of Suffolk it wasn't unusual to leave doors unlocked and the following morning she realised that a loaf of bread had been stolen. It was strange that she didn't really feel fear, but when the visits and minor thefts continued she waited up to catch the swimmer, who stole small amounts of food – and played the piano like an angel.

The swimmer was Ben, a twenty-five-year-old doctor from Sri Lanka, asylum-seeker and illegal immigrant. He'd left his mother and girlfriend in Sri Lanka when he fled the sectarian fighting. The journey had cost the family all their money and had brought Ben to Suffolk via Russia. Ria was eighteen years his senior but the attraction between her and Ben was mutual. It's not long before problems arise in the village. Not everyone is tolerant or understanding and one of the worst is Ria's brother. Are there terrorists in the area or is there an orchestrated campaign of hate?

The story is told from the point of view of three women – a lover, a mother and a daughter. They're three very distinct personalities who come off the page well with their own personal quirks – the mother who has a sharpness you might not expect and the daughter with difficulties coming to terms with what has happened. Their stories link together to provide the wider picture – and talking of wider pictures, the descriptions of Suffolk are breathtaking. You can feel the heat in summer and almost touch the snow in winter. When Ria tells her story you could guess that she is a poet and there's a subtle contrast when Anula and Lydia speak. The writing is exquisite.

I found the story utterly convincing, from the rather unconventional love affair, through to the future when illegal immigrants are shot. The personal stories are neatly interwoven with the wider political picture, the points subtly made. Above all though Roma Tearne is a superb story teller and it's easy to miss the talented writing in your enthusiasm to find out what happens next.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For more of Roma Tearne we can recommend Bone China and Brixton Beach. If you'd like another story of Sri Lanka you might like to try Love Marriage by V V Ganeshananthan or for more stories set in Suffolk we can recommend Death of a Murderer by Rupert Thomson and The Dig by John Preston.

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Buy The Swimmer by Roma Tearne at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Swimmer by Roma Tearne at

Booklists.jpg The Swimmer by Roma Tearne is in the Orange Prize 2011.


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