The Swimming Pool was a good summer read, offering a character-driven psychological drama against the backdrop of an English summer in London. Set over the course of the school summer holidays, it follows teacher Natalie Steele as she discovers the new local swimming pool, forms some sinister friendships and discovers quite a bit about herself.
Natalie is somewhat stuck in a rut. She and her fellow teacher husband Ed live by a structure of strict regimes, with a small but dependable group of friends and young, slightly overprotected teenage daughter; they are almost the epitome of sensible. Ed, it seems, is naturally this way, but Nat has intentionally chosen a life of routine due to some murky events in her past which are gradually revealed. In her past, she wasn’t always such an upstanding citizen, and she’s ready to rebel again when she meets her glamorous, alluring neighbour, Lara Channing, at the local swimming pool.
The plot of this story is nothing groundbreaking, but what Candlish excels at is her character portrayals. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure I really liked any of the characters in this book; there’s no definitive good guys here, they’ve all got their shades of grey, particularly our protagonist, Natalie. But they’re complex and intelligently developed, and they’re what kept me reading. Natalie’s banal existence is perfectly juxtaposed with the vivacious Lara’s life of cocktails at noon and questionable open relationships.
This book left me with some mixed feelings. It’s not hugely original, but it is done well. I struggled to empathise with the main character, who I felt made some pretty terrible choices, and I wish we’d scraped beneath the surface of Lara’s character more as I found her intriguing. But Candlish keeps the reader engaged with a dual timeline leading to a shock twist conclusion, all set against the backdrop of a summer heatwave, and it makes it a great light read for a summer holiday.