Denise's Reviews > Swimming

Swimming by Nicola Keegan
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Jun 09, 2010

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Read in June, 2009

3.0 out of 5 stars Live to swim and swim to live..., June 1, 2009

This review is from: Swimming (Hardcover)

I finished this book a couple of days ago and had to give it some thought and reflection before I commented on it.

This novel, about a girl who lives to swim and swims to live, has a lot of ambition but somehow it falls short and sort of left me depressed. It's an incredibly complex tale of a young girl's sad coming of age and her relentless pursuit of Olympic gold in swimming. The story is set in the 70s through the 90s and weaves just enough fact about previous Olympics, medalists, and other current events to set the scene of an earlier, different time period.

Philomena, raised in Glenwood, Kansas, attends a Catholic school and has a love/hate relationship with the nuns and the church. After a series of very tragic deaths, Philomena (nicknamed Pip, to her chagrin) begins training in earnest. Six feet tall with huge feet and incredible flexibility, she travels first to Colorado to live with the Peggys and train with the famous swimming coach E. Mankovitz and then ends up with a scholarship to Stanford where she receives more intense preparation and grueling training in and out of the pool.

The novel flits back and forth to her childhood and to her present, never quite putting her THERE for the reader to understand. I found her a very difficult character to know as her emotions run the gauntlet, never quite ringing true as she spends most of the book trying to figure who she is -- if she's not a swimmer, or what else she is besides a swimmer. This is a character that totally goes "with the flow" and, as she points out, "has really never made a single decision in her life." Even though she's a sister and a daughter -- from a very dysfunctional family of course -- a friend and a lover, she is unable to deal with her relationships and has some larger than life psychological issues that she almost drowns in.

Nevertheless, I liked the book though I found it very difficult reading at times. This is not a book you probably should read in one day, it's one to savor and contemplate. The author has incredible command of a turn of phrase and writes elegant, descriptive prose.

I guess I was hoping for more of the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" type story, but that's really not this book.
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