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The Swimmers

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A claustrophobic, literary dystopia set in the hot, luscious landscape of Andalusia from the author of The Golden Key.

After the ravages of global warming, this is place of deep jungles, strange animals, and new taxonomies. Social inequality has ravaged society, now divided into surface dwellers and people who live in the Upper Settlement, a ring perched at the edge of the planet's atmosphere. Within the surface dwellers, further divisions occur: the techies are old families, connected to the engineer tradition, builders of the Barrier, a huge wall that keeps the plastic-polluted Ocean away. They possess a much higher status than the beanies, their servants.

The novel opens after the Delivery Act has decreed all surface humans are 'equal'. Narrated by Pearl, a young techie with a thread of shuvani blood, she navigates the complex social hierarchies and monstrous, ever-changing landscape. But a radical attack close to home forces her to question what she knew about herself and the world around her.

288 pages, Paperback

First published February 23, 2021

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About the author

Marian Womack

50 books71 followers
Marian Womack is a bilingual writer born in Andalusia and educated at the universities of Glasgow and Oxford. She is currently completing a part-time Masters Degree in Creative Writing at Cambridge University, and recently graduated from the Clarion Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writer’s Workshop at USCD. She is co-editor of the academic book Beyond the Back Room: New Perspectives on Carmen Martín Gaite (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2010), and of The Best of Spanish Steampunk (forthcoming, 2015). In Spanish she has published the cycle of intertwined tales Memoria de la Nieve (Zaragoza: Tropo, 2011), has co-authored the YA novel Calle Andersen (Barcelona: La Galera, 2014), and has contributed to more than fifteen anthologies of short fiction, the most recent Alucinadas (Gijón: Palabaristas, 2014), the first Spanish language all-female SF anthology. Her journalism and critical writing on Spanish literature, culture and society have appeared on a variety of English speaking academic journals, as well as the Times Literary Supplement, the New Internationalist, and the digital version of El País. She has fiction forthcoming in English in Weird Fiction Review. Chosen by literary magazine Leer in its 30th anniversary as one of the thirty most influential people in their thirties in Spain’s literary scene, she is also a prolific translator, and runs a small press in Madrid, Ediciones Nevsky.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 60 reviews
Profile Image for Lou (nonfiction fiend).
2,771 reviews1,625 followers
February 22, 2021
The Swimmers is a richly-imagined literary eco-dystopia that draws inspiration from Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea and presents an earth centuries in the future when life has irrevocably changed for all living creatures on our home planet. It's 2033 in Andalusia, Spain, and after the ravages of global warming, this is place of deep jungles, strange animals, and new taxonomies and in the tropical zone carnivorous plants and humongous animals have overrun the forests and continue to mutate with alarming speed. Social inequality has devastated society, now divided into surface dwellers and people who live in the Upper Settlement, a ring perched at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere. Within the surface dwellers, further divisions occur: the techies are old families, connected to the engineer tradition, builders of the Barrier, a huge wall that keeps the brown sludge plastic-polluted ocean away. They possess a much higher status than the beanies, their servants. The novel opens after the Delivery Act has decreed all surface humans are ‘equal’.

Narrated by Pearl, a young techie with a thread of shuvani blood, she navigates the complex social hierarchies and monstrous, ever-changing landscape. But a radical attack close to home forces her to question what she knew about herself and the world around her. This is a captivating and powerful story that explores the ongoing and future devastating effects climate change could have on our planet and ecology and the wider implications of social inequality, class and cultural differences, and displacement. This is prescient speculative fiction exploring the issue of climate change through a superbly crafted tale that is as heartbreaking as it is absorbing. It's vivid and realistic, and I found myself immersed in the narrative pretty swiftly. The world-building is intricate and the descriptions throughout of the landscape, the natural world and the dangers we as humans now face to find a solution to the predicament of climate change issues are dreamy and evocative. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Brittany Da.
24 reviews
February 18, 2021
Firstly, huge thank you to Titan Books and NetGalley for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Swimmers takes place in the future on a dystopian Earth, which has been nearly destroyed climate change. Due to the climate change, there is a group of rich people who live in the Upper Settlement away from Earth and they consider themselves more superior. The first part of the story focuses on Pearl, who shows us the drastic changes to the world, including the mutated animals. We learn that her father is accused of killing another child when she was younger, but Pearl does not believe it. Just part of this journey is finding out what really happened.

Personally, this story felt very difficult to follow and all over the place. I did enjoy the overall concept, but it took extra effort on my end to follow along. As I was reading, I felt like I was missing crucial pieces of information or indicators if it was the future or the past. Frankly, I found myself flipping back several pages to see what I missed.

Its an interesting take of what the future could hold given our current path.
Profile Image for Bandit.
4,402 reviews440 followers
January 15, 2021
First and foremost thought on this one…Well, someone read and liked The Southern Reach Trilogy very much and decided to do something similar. Albeit, objectively inferior. And some of it is because VanderMeer at his best is tough to beat. And some of it is due to this book’s pacing. It’s kind of…dreamy? I mean, the narrative has a distinct dreamy quality to it, too. But it’s the acing that throws the entire production off, though not catastrophically.
The main basis for The Southern Reach books comparison is due to the fact that this book is so heavily set among the creative flora and fauna of a different world. But otherwise this is a different book and the world within it is very different, also. Womack imagines a dystopia where there has been a split, with some living up in the orbit, with luxury and technology while others are stuck back on the radically changed by climate devastation Earth. So this is a work of climate science fiction, thanks global warming.
The different social strata are very well laid out, the socioeconomic guidelines define denizens of both locations, though it is more complex on Earth, since it is, among other things, a more complex environment. The oceans are held back by walls and the wildlife has grown gigantic, prehistorically so. Since this is where the book’s protagonist lives, the readers get to know this world through her as she navigates her way around it. Some of the novel is spent with her being isolated and pregnant up in the skies, in a world that’s been rumored to have become infertile. Some of it is her life throughout the years on Earth. Alternatively, you also get Arlo’s perspective, her love interest from the orbit, who travels down to marry her. Oddly enough, some of the plot details are already fading from my mind and it’s only been two days and three books since I’ve read it. Must be because the plot never quite lived up to the splendidly imagined scenery, especially toward the end is kind of ambled around. The thing with The Southern Reach trilogy is that for all its magnificent nature writing, the plot has always steadily marched to the beat of its drums, no matter how weird that beat or those drums might have been. This book tended to meander instead of marching.
It was still interesting and original and lusciously imagined, though maybe not quite as streamlined plot wise as I would have liked. Still enjoyable to read and went by very quickly. Fans of literary dystopias, especially with climate angle, might do well to check this out. Thanks Netgalley.
Profile Image for Jael.
27 reviews1 follower
January 11, 2021
An eco-dystopian, Weird speculative fiction, this eerily premonitory tale imagines what could happen if both capitalism and climate change go unchecked.

It is the 2300s, and Earth is now transformed from centuries of abuse. The oceans are filled with plastic, animals have mutated into monstrosities, and the jungle swallows up entire villages in one night. The rich have only gotten richer and have moved into the Upper Settlement, a space station on the edge of the atmosphere. Everyone else is doing their best to survive on the inhospitable Surface. The Swimmers follows the story of Pearl, a girl living in what was once Andalusia, as she "navigates the complex social hierarchies and monstrous, ever-changing landscape".

Simply put, the writing is gorgeous. The author describes everything beautifully, and I was entranced from start to finish. There is no hand holding when it comes to world building, yet the world is where this book truly shines. You are dropped into a place that is both alien and uncomfortably familiar, a place you can see vividly in your mind's eye.

This book is more character-focused than plot-focused, though the plot and conclusion did leave me reeling. Without giving too much away, Pearl's evolution was a joy to follow: from a scrappy kid without direction, to a woman on a mission to find the truth and improve her community.

I highly recommend this to fans of the Southern Reach trilogy and anyone who likes character-driven books with immersive worlds.
Profile Image for Rosie.
301 reviews24 followers
February 15, 2021
Firstly, huge thank you to Titan Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Swimmers is a reimagining of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, set in a dystopian, futuristic, Earth that has been almost destroyed by global warming and climate change. This has led to extreme social inequality between those who live on the surface and those who live in the Upper Settlement. Pearl has lived on the surface her whole life believing that she knows the truth about The Ring, but after an attack close to her home and her union with Arlo, she begins to doubt everything she knows.

Both Pearl and Arlo were really interesting characters from the two extremes of their new world: with Pearl from the poverty stricken surface and Arlo comfortably living in the Upper Settlement. What I particularly liked was seeing how both of them believed that they knew the truth about the world and society, and how the word ended up the way it is. I also really enjoyed seeing how they would interact with each other about this and how they both developed because of their ‘union’. I really liked Savina as well, I liked the relationship she had with Pearl. There were a few characters that were introduced during the novel that seemed to just disappear as the novel progresses so it felt as though there were a couple of loose ends.

I liked how we spent a lot of the beginning of the novel learning about the world through the perspective of Pearl only to later go to Arlo’s perspective and then alternate between the two. I thought this was a great way to introduce the readers to society in a way that makes the reader suspicious of what is really going on even if Pearl appeared very naive at times (which could be a little frustrating). Additionally, not only did the perspective shift from character to character which was always made clear to the reader, the novel would also shift from past to present too which wasn’t always clear and made for some confusing reading in certain chapters which left me struggling to connect the dots.

Although this novel is a dystopian reimagining of Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, this novel can still be enjoyed as it is even if you haven’t read Wide Sargasso Sea (if you have, however, there are plenty of parallels and references which feel like nice little easter eggs). I really enjoyed the world that Womack had created, for the most part it felt like a whole different world rather than a post-apocalyptic Earth. Womack’s depiction of an Earth ravaged by climate change and the excess of plastic was my favourite aspect of the novel. Although Womack’s writing is beautiful and lyrical in places, the idea that this kind of world could be a reality was very much present gave the book a different edge that was unsettling.

Overall, despite my confusion over parts of the plot and some characters seeming to just disappear, this was a really interesting take on the usual dystopian setting which I enjoyed and is well worth checking out.
Profile Image for Amy Walker  - Trans-Scribe Reviews.
772 reviews9 followers
February 26, 2021
The Swimmers is the latest novel from Marian Womack, and much like her previous book, The Golden Key, it has a strange, dreamlike quality that makes reading it a unique experience.

The narrative follows Pearl, a young woman who’s grown up in a world of the far future, where the earth has been completely altered by climate change and out of control terra-forming, creating a place that’s almost unrecognisable for readers.

Following global warming the world has been transformed, covered in a vast, always changing jungle, filled with mutant animals. There are three groups of people surviving in this future: those who get to live high above the Earth in the huge ring that surrounds the planet; the Techies, old families who were once responsible for the construction and upkeep of the large barriers that keep out the deadly seas, but have to live on the surface; and the Beanies, a recently freed group of people that were once slave and servants, working in the Techie homes and growing food in the jungles.

Pearl is a Techie, and has grown up in a remote estate in the jungles, but after her father leaves her life after apparently killing a child, Pearl’s childhood takes a turn she didn’t expect. Eventually her mother remarries, and the family get to move to one of the last towns left, where she begins to learn more about the world around her, and starts to uncover some secrets about her family and their past.

I mentioned at the start that The Swimmers has something of a dream-like quality to it, and this is mainly due to the fact that the narrative is told from Pearl’s point of view, and that the book is written less like someone experiencing a series of events and recounting them to the reader, and more like someone looking back on their life. The narrative comes across more like a flow of consciousness than a more thought out telling of a story.

Pearl hasn’t rehearsed what she’s telling people, she isn’t writing it down in an easy to understand way, editing what’s there until it’s clear and easy to follow. Instead it will jump from point to point, with the time-frame of events moving around. She’ll start talking about one thing, but it seems to remind her of something else, so she switches her focus and talks about that for a bit, before going back to her original point. Because of this the book can at times feel pretty disjointed, and even hard to follow, however, it gets readers deeper into her mind than a normal first person perspective would normally manage.

The strangeness of the writing style, and of Pearl’s thoughts, are magnified in sections where another voice takes over, and we get parts written from another point of view. These segments feel more like a traditional first person perspective, and are closer to what most people would probably be used to experiencing. These segments help to give further context to Pearl’s story, showing events from different vantage points, and allowing deeper understanding of what’s going on, things that Pearl couldn’t possibly know. They also help to explain the conclusion of the book, something that if we were just following Pearl’s story alone would take a very sudden turn and conclude almost out of nowhere; yet together these two narrative types seem to work, and craft a mostly complete and satisfying narrative.

I say mostly, because there was so much about this world that I wanted to learn more about, yet readers were never really given that opportunity. Over the course of the book we learn a little about how the world ended up this way, but it feels like this was just the tip of the iceberg for the most part. We never really went deep into how things got to this point, who was responsible for the dramatic changes to the planet and its wildlife. We got tiny glimpses into the creatures that now inhabit the jungles and vast, plastic filled oceans, but only occasionally when an animal we’ve never seen or heard of before is mentioned in Pearl’s story. I really wanted Womack to go into this in more detail, to really show the weirdness and horror of this new Earth, yet it never happened.

I’d recommend The Swimmers to people who want to read a strange and multilayered story, one that will get you thinking and filling in the gaps, but if you’re not a fan of complex weaving narratives and opaque storytelling it might leave you wishing for something a little easier to digest.
1 review
August 31, 2021
Beware spoilers!

This book is a future dystopian, where the planet suffered an environmental crisis. Much of the population is forced to try and survive on the surface, while others get to live luxuriously on the ring.

I feel like this book makes the general population look so ignorant. Like they just didn't notice that everytime a blue light from space hits the Earth, more greenery pops up? The author doesn't really explain much on how things came to be or how knowledge was lost. I feel like there would be more than a few rebels holding onto some old books.

The main character is a girl named Pearl who seems to live in the forest in the boonies, to easily depict her as naive and not very knowledgeable. And there is a lot of random lore mixed in. They have swimmers who feel the pull of the ocean and drown themselves either by accident or as an act if rebellion. They introduce Savina as a witch-type who can concoct potions, yet it's not really talked about. They bring up the myth of Arila and they talk about demons.

Arlo is introduced and immediately married to Pearl, despite no indication that she really wants that. She wanted to be a scholar and a storyteller. And Arlo was just unlikable. He was some spoiled kid from the ring with no real reason to stick around on the Earth. Then he gets sucked into helping Eli's group of rebels, where they banish him to space. And he became the hero of the story for hearing a beacon. Meanwhile, Pearl is stuck as a janitor, unable to be with her daughter. They just cast aside her character and she didn't really amount to anything. But at the end the author tries to tie it all in and say that they're a happy family back together living on the surface with renewed hope for the future of mankind.

The book also jumped around like crazy. It shifted between accounts of Pearl and Arlo, which made enough sense. But it also moved from past to present without clear transitions of which was which. And it wasn't clear on how much time was passing. I feel like this book just had so many words but said so little. Like it went on tangents of trivial things and explained in detail things like animals and the registry, but not about very concrete things that would have helped propel the story forward.

Overall, it was a weird read, very disjointed and hard to follow. And it kept bringing up lore that was never fully explained.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jade.
199 reviews14 followers
February 9, 2021
The concept of a climate change dystopia was really seducing, as I like both of those aspects. However, I did not enjoy this as much as I thought I would.

The lore is pretty good. We get introduced to a world in which climate change has divided humanity. The rich and powerful have built a ring in space. Those on the ground suffer heatwaves, mutating plants and animals. That is pretty much all I can say about the plot though. I don't think I understood what the book is really about. It had a lot of description to show how Earth is because of human actions, etc, so it had this moralizing vibe, but that's normal given the topic. It could have been a little less though.

Aside from that, the story is told from different timelines, and I think I got lost in it. I didn't know where the characters were, why they were there, and what was happening. Overall from my perception (because I didn't understand everything), I read a book that describes what could happen in on of the worst climate change scenario.

The characters were ok. I liked reading about Pearl. She is smart and had a nice vibe to her. I didn't like much her future husband (can't remember his name, sorry), so I skipped a bit his chapters. Still, there is a character in the book I absolutely love, and that is Savina. She is the "maid" or similar position to Pearl's family, and she has this mystical vibe about her. She's not a witch but Pearl grows watching her brew potions and beverages that seem to have magical effects. She's the kindest character of the book and acts like a mentor for Pearl, which probably has a huge impact on the way she will grow up. So, yeah, Savina was definitely my favorite character!

In the end, I didn't enjoy this book too much, because I didn't understand it. I'm not sure this is entirely due to the author though. I think my brain got muddled by other things too, and maybe I'll reread it someday and realize it had more to it than I originally thought. Still, it lacked action for me, and this is also why I couldn't concentrate as much. It is definitely not a bad book, but just one that wasn't for me now.
Profile Image for Jill Hamilton-Krawczyk.
204 reviews11 followers
March 21, 2021
The Swimmers by Marian Womack is a dreamy and thought-provoking, speculative evolution, eco-dystopian novel perfect for fans of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. The story is utterly unique and the world building is superb. The captivating cover is what initially caught my eye and when I read the synopsis I knew I had to have it. This was a buddy read with my sister-in-law and we both absolutely loved it.
Profile Image for Doreen.
2,358 reviews58 followers
February 28, 2021
2/24/2021 3.5 stars rounded up. Full review tk at TheFrumiousConsortium.net.

2/27/2021 It’s kind of hilarious how the back cover of this volume calls it a reimagining of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea even as Marian Womack’s afterword candidly discusses how she doesn’t want to compare The Swimmers to what was for her a seminal text. And I can see for both arguments: the comparison is a huge hook in getting readers to pick this up, but the story itself, while having many parallels to that reimagining of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, is really quite different from both novels.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t spend the first few chapters trying to get the two plots to sync together better in my brain. Pearl is a young surface-dweller who lives with her loving, if distant, mother and ill younger brother on a rambling estate almost wholly given over to the encroaching wilderness. Her memories of her father are fragmented and unreliable, but she knows scandal followed his death by suicide in a military base. Growing up nearly feral, socializing mostly with those of the beanie and shuvani classes considered lower in status than her own, she’s in for a surprise when her mother suddenly remarries.

Anton VanLow is kind but also obviously in need of Urania’s fortune. He moves their family to Old Town while he remodels the estate, gradually introducing them to modern civilization as he wheels and deals with their fellow techie caste members and the higher-status ringers who live in orbit over earth. Tragedy strikes when they move back to the estate, tearing their family apart and causing Pearl to eventually seek refuge in an Academy that trains her for work in the Ring, or so she hopes.

Years later, a ringer named Arlo comes down to Old Town to marry the stepdaughter of an industrialist his father means to court. Arlo is attracted to Pearl but doesn’t understand her life or her world, and she will soon leave him in an attempt to make sense of her place on this planet... or above it, no matter the consequence to her or to the baby she reluctantly carries.

Set in a far future where humanity’s haves live in a pristine off-world while the have-nots struggle against the wild and ever-changing wreckage of a planet Earth that is coming back with a vengeance after centuries of ill use, this is a fascinating study both of ecology and sociology, and how myths and stories grow to make history more palatable to the average person. It’s an excellent fast-forwarding of the class and feminism issues highlighted in WSS to apply to an imagined future in the aftermath of eco-disaster and social stratification via futuristic technology. Perhaps most surprisingly, The Swimmers is also a critique of collection vs curation. What is the point, Pearl wonders, of gathering data without providing context and making value judgments of worth and posterity? It's also a brutally honest rendition of a woman who hates being pregnant but will do anything for her child once born -- sentiments I have a strong sympathy for.

As with her debut novel The Golden Key, Dr Womack does a tremendous job of establishing the atmosphere and otherworldly settings our protagonists encounter and often struggle through. The ideas are lively and the individual scenes often indelible for their imagery and evocation of feeling. I do continue to wish that certain parts were more developed tho. How did the Ring trap the pregnant Pearl? What’s up with the visual manifestation of the storytellers’ art? Why not do more than coyly allude to how Pearl’s father mistreated her mother? And what was Verity’s actual cause of death?!

I did enjoy The Swimmers more than TGK (which I’m still hoping for a sequel to!) because it felt less vague around the periphery despite being a book that lends itself to a kind of dreaminess where details may more quickly slip into irrelevancy. Obviously, I still had my questions, but overall it felt a more satisfying read, likely because it’s more topical than TGK, allowing Dr Womack to focus with wry precision on a wider number of issues that deserve mulling over in our day and age. I do hesitate in calling this a dystopia when the society here is so obviously patterned on an actual historical era, in this case, life in early 1800s colonial Jamaica. Undesirable and unjust, for sure, but so far within the realm of possibility as to have actually happened, and hooking the literary term "dystopia" to it, while technically correct, feels like an attempt to make it seem like bad societies were a fiction or an anomaly instead of a horrifying reality for far too many people.

Finally, would like to note how gorgeous that cover is, and perfectly evocative of the novel's post-eco-disaster setting, even if none of the swimmers in the book actually come into contact with underwater Venus flytraps large enough to kill a person. That we know of, anyway.

The Swimmers by Marian Womack was published February 23, 2021 by Titan Books and is available from all good booksellers, including Bookshop! Want it now? For the Kindle version, click here.

And for some cool tech, check out this bundle.
Profile Image for Vivienne.
Author 2 books85 followers
February 27, 2021
Fascinating eco-Gothic novel inspired by The Wide Sargasso Sea

‘The Swimmers’ by Marian Womack is set on a future Earth ravaged by climate change where the last of the human race is divided between those living on the surface among deep jungles and monstrous animals and those living in the Upper Settlement, a ring situated at the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Its lead is Pearl, a young woman living on an isolated estate in the forests of Gobari, with her beautiful, mad mother, Urania. Following Urania’s remarriage, Pearl’s stepfather promises her to Arlo, a starborn, who descends from the Upper Settlement to claim Pearl as his bride.

‘The Swimmers’ proved to be a fascinating novel and I was quickly swept up by Womack’s rich, dreamlike descriptions, especially of the changed Earth. Her imagined mutated creatures were impressive including the human-sized, orange-furred hares, “Venus flytraps as big as a small child”, as well as “those strange days when the sky was green, blue, electric.” The cover art highlights those flytraps.

Her style is lyrical though at times this made the narrative a little hard to follow. Still, I just allowed myself to be swept up in the flow.

Apparently this eco-dystopia is a reimagining of ‘The Wide Sargasso Sea’ though to date I have never read that classic novel that itself references ‘Jane Eyre’. Still, it’s clear from the plot description that although set in a dystopian future it has many of the elements of the classic Gothic romance. She describes the novel as eco-Gothic, which I adore as a descriptive term.

Given the strict delineation between the various classes and Pearl’s mixed ethnicity, the novel also gives Womack the opportunity to explore issues of discrimination in its futuristic setting.

I was very impressed with her visionary writing and immediately bought her first novel, ‘The Golden Key’, and will be looking out for future projects.

Profile Image for Rebecca Bowyer.
Author 3 books209 followers
January 30, 2021
The Swimmers is a furistic fable about how the power of storytelling can be turned into propaganda by those who wish to impose their will on others.

It's messy and, at times, hard to follow. But it's also lyrical and beautiful to read. Chaotically structured and constantly rambling just like the jungle the story takes place in.

There are plenty of poignant comments on the ever-increasing gap between the mega-wealthy and the poor, and how wealth will insulate the 1% from the devastating effects of climate change:

"‘The ultra-rich continued evolving their technology as if nothing that was going on was their problem. First, they had escaped into exclusive compounds; then into orbiting houses; and lastly, into the ring itself. With time, half of us had been abandoned here.’"

An an interesting point of view - that looking to past mistakes won't help us prevent future ones. In fact, obsessing over our past weights us down and prevents us from seeing creative future solutions:

"We were dooming ourselves to the same nonsensical repetition of the same nonsensical mistakes that the pre-Winter men had made. We were weighed down by things that had come to us centuries ago,"

More than once while reading the novel I thought of the heated beauty and chaos of one of my favourite classic novels, Jean Rhys's "Wide Sargasso Sea". I was, therefore, quite astonished to read in the acknowledgements that the author directly refers to Rhys's novel!:

"I have taken my inspiration closely from the novel. Since I first read it, Wide Sargasso Sea has struck me with how closely I could relate to its description of a world in which issues of ‘equality’ and dominant culture proved that nothing as prosaic as the law could indeed make us equal, and that many other undercurrents decide these things for us."

A recommended read for those who enjoy lyrical, beautifully written prose with opaque and complex storylines.
Profile Image for Kat.
1,595 reviews26 followers
January 30, 2021
Okay. Where to begin...I found this book both fascinating and terrifying to read. The social concepts are interesting and have clever plot points. The terrifying part of reading this was how out of depth I was in the same interesting plot and it's beautiful way its written. It is defiantly a deep thinker book...yes thank Jeff Vandermeer. He is one of these authors whom I love, but sometimes have to read the book a second time to get everything.
Profile Image for RG.
3,092 reviews
June 5, 2021
Bookclub. Well written but too confusing for my liking
Profile Image for Ahri.
46 reviews
January 31, 2021
I was so looking forward to this book, and unfortunately I could not finish it. It was beautiful and lyrical but so messy at the same time. I could not get into it, and it was just not for me.

Thank you NetGalley, author, and publisher for the ARC.
Profile Image for Rachel S.
76 reviews6 followers
February 24, 2021
The Swimmers is part eco-horror, part sci-fi dystopia.

A few hundred years in the future, Earth has become nearly inhospitable. The privileged lived in the Upper Ring, miles above the ground, and the rest are doing their best to survive the wild ocean, the metastasizing jungles, and the bioengineered wild animals. Those who live on the surface are divided into castes, and the narrator Pearl is a member of the higher caste (her family has a slave, but they're *nice* slave-owners). As the story progresses Pearl learns family secrets, and the truth about what happened to Earth.

I enjoyed the descriptions of eco-horror. Womack was obviously inspired by Annihilation (she says as much in the author's notes), but she puts her own spin on things. I could see how much she enjoyed world-building, and I thought the constellations and fairy-tales that enforce social norms were a great touch at creating a realistic society. She was clearly more interesting in that than the Ring, which was almost comically generic.

The writing is a bit frantic. We jump around in time and I would have trouble piecing together the timeline of events, and characters are introduced and dropped. Ultimately, I found the book to be just ok.
31 reviews
July 16, 2021
I finished this book thinking meh it was ok, average, 3 star. The more i thought about it the more annoyed i got. It jumped around in different times and was far too descriptive/metaphorical for my liking. Throughout the book it hinted at things eg fertility/terraforming which could have been expanded on but they were sort of just left. The entire story seemed to be wrapped up in two pages. It didnt explain how Pearl got up to the ring or why they took her baby?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Katherine.
41 reviews9 followers
November 28, 2021
Interesting initial concept but the plot was difficult to follow, and storytelling rambling/disconnected.
Profile Image for Paperbacks.
287 reviews19 followers
March 6, 2021
Firstly I want to say a huge thank you to Titan books for the advanced copy of this title. I was excited to see a new book from Marian Womack, her previous book The Golden Key was a book that I loved so I was eager to dive back into her ethereal writing style. Unfortunately this dreamlike quality, which worked so well in a gothic setting, fell short in this story for me.

The premise is strong and a stark take on the future we could find ourselves in, the rich continuing with their opulent lifestyle whilst the poor remain on what's left of the surface. The world has in many ways started to reclaim itself and the surface feels very colourful even if the local fauna is a much mutated version of how we would see it today. Reusing and recycling is a way of life, but society has also regressed to one full of superstition and stories over fact. The Swimmers is very subversive in this way and for those on the surface, including our protagonist Pearl, their myths have become part of their way of life, the salutary tales a clever means of control. The Woman in White a figure who both gives and takes in a way that feels immensely cruel, yet her stories continue to be told. I enjoyed how some of these stories were peppered throughout the book to really help drive home how close to propaganda some of them were.

Pearl was an interesting protagonist, her story jumps and is mainly in retrospect, I was never clear as to whether she was recollecting or dreaming but I liked how that matched how disorienting her life had become. One of the more fortunate of the surface dwellers she is top of a caste system which sadly still exists and I actually found it quite sad that with all the apparent progress, we still have a society heavily propped up by servitude. Her history is complex and her family full of secrets, her mother being one of the titular Swimmers - which If I'm being brutally honest, I'm still not sure I understand the significance of, especially as the ocean is pretty much a sheet of plastic debris. The introduction of Arlo as a second narrator was much needed and I found his sections in the earlier stages brought a real balance to haphazard recollections of Pearl. His eyes brought a fresh take to what was happening on the surface and I enjoyed his arc very much.

The sad thing for me is that I found The Swimmers to be so confusing. The story went in different directions and threads were left unanswered. The writing just didn't feel cohesive and I found it such a hard book to motivate myself to come back to. The Swimmers is not a book you can read piecemeal and I think that's perhaps why I struggled. I wasn't able to have a really large chunk of time and indeed the last quarter where I had more time, I found that I was, to a degree, able to get into the story. However I still felt like I was missing things and had to flip back to check.

All this being said though, The Swimmers had one of the most deeply satisfying endings I have read for a long time, I had no idea with the dwindling pages how it could be ended but a simple epilogue spoke of so much and painted the picture perfectly. However, for much of the story I felt that the focus was in the wrong place and I wanted to know what was happening elsewhere which was a shame as I think a bit more structure could have made this a book I would have really loved.
Profile Image for Shannon (It Starts At Midnight).
1,084 reviews1,010 followers
February 25, 2021
You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight

The Swimmers first drew me in with its title (I'll never turn down anything that mentions swimming, let's be real). Then the cover blew me away, and I love me a dystopian, so there was really no doubt I'd be needing to read this book. I feel... complicated things about it, so let's break down what I enjoyed versus what I had trouble with!

What I Liked:

►The world itself is fascinating. I mean, it certainly seems plausible- a group who fancies themselves superior (i.e., richer) lives in luxury while those they deem inferior suffer in less-than-ideal conditions. And of course, the earth is all messed up, polluted, and flat out dangerous, because humans. I'm afraid I never fully grasped the intricacies of said world, sadly, which I will discuss later. But what I did get, I liked.

►The writing felt very atmospheric and contributed quite well to the overall vibe of the story. I certainly understood how desperate the conditions were, and felt for main character Pearl as she tried to navigate the world.

►I certainly rooted for Pearl. I won't say I felt particularly connected to her, but I felt for her, and I wanted her to end up okay. And you know, society in general to be more fair. For Pearl and us, I suppose.

What I Didn't:

►The pacing felt a bit off. The thing is, we knew via the switch between past and present, where Pearl's story ultimately ends up. And as the story is slower in nature and quite character-driven, it made it feel longer, not having that sense of anticipation. Pearl's chapters also had a tendency to be a bit long-winded, and while I enjoyed the writing quality, I did wish for a bit more action at times. It seemed like not much happened for a good chunk of the book. And that is okay sometimes! But it didn't really do it for me here.

►As I mentioned above, I was really kind of confused by parts of the world. We're introduced to terms I never fully understood the meaning of, and I kept waiting for it to "click" for me, but it never did. So I spent a fairly significant portion of the book just not getting it.

►While I didn't dislike Pearl's husband, Arlo (in fact, I felt that I understood what was going on much better during his POV), I didn't feel anything about their relationship at all. Perhaps this is a bit spoilery, but

Bottom Line: A beautifully written and atmospheric book that paints a bleak future for the planet, The Swimmers left me a bit confused and underwhelmed at times.
46 reviews
December 12, 2021
This book is probably the definition of "not for everybody." I was almost put off reading it by the surplus of negative reviews and frustrated feedback. However, I'm glad I gave it a shot and ultimately think the book is worth picking up for a particular niche readership.

This would be three stars, but I'm adding a star for originality and sheer oddity.

The Swimmers is heavily influenced by Wide Sargasso Sea and Annihilation/climate horror science fiction, which should be understood from the beginning. This is a weird combination, so if you don't like literary, dreamlike narration paired with your science fiction, you should probably pass. If you also don't like idly following a character's life story, (like in a lot of classics), you should definitely pass.

I found the style immersive and suited to such a strange, lush environment. There were a few scenes where I felt genuinely impressed with the author's ability to paint such vivid landscapes and intertwine them with a character's chaotic personal story. But it demands a level of patience with the unknown that I think most readers don't care for.

You can tell Womack is widely read and interested in literary themes. The Swimmers theme tied throughout is wonderfully executed, arguably the best part of the book. I also liked the idea of looking for truth which you already know on some deep level but fail to recognize, which is mirrored across Arlo and Pearl's experiences.

My main issue with the book is that Womack moves from a hazy, fable-like atmosphere to a more concrete action-centered narration when she introduces Arlo and brings the timeline up to present day with Pearl in the ring. It feels like a totally different story. I liked Arlo, but his logical viewpoint took away some of the magic that Pearl's narration created. It just felt uneven.

By the end of the story, the author tries to solve some of the big problems and I think she would have been better just leaving the future hazy at the end of the book. It would fit more cohesively with Pearl's odd fever dream style for 2/3rds of the book.

I liked the marriage of sci-fi with fable. Most of the The Swimmers reminded me strongly of Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun and a little of Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns. Like these works, The Swimmers has a futuristic world told from a kind of "ancient past" lens. But the author departs from this to a more concrete explanation of the world in the last 1/3rd.

Overall, I wanted to chime in and say that I thought the book was pretty good. I would definitely read more from the author, and I hope this finds its readership.
Profile Image for Liz (Quirky Cat).
4,034 reviews61 followers
February 12, 2021
I received a copy of The Swimmers in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Marian Womack's latest novel, The Swimmers, is an eco-dystopian novel set in a time where global warming has done all the damage we could have imagined. Yet there were survivors, more or less.

Set in the 2300s, Earth is very different from the one we all know. This is the world that Pearl grew up in. A world divided, as some moved to the atmosphere to continue to lives of luxury. While others continued doing the best they can for themselves on a ravaged surface.

Pearl's life is forever changed after a series of declarations and events, all of which sent her reeling. Now she's questioning everything, including what she thought she knew about those around her – and herself.

Okay, so I really wanted to like The Swimmers. I loved the cover (who doesn't love the idea of giant Venus Fly Traps?), the description sounded cool, and of course I adored the concept of exploring a completely different world.

However, I did struggle pretty hard when it comes to following the narrative of this story. Not because it was too complex, I just found myself working too hard to become invested in it all. Including Pearl's story, I'm sad to say.

I actually had to go and look at other reviews before sitting down to write this one, just to make sure that I wasn't missing something major. Apparently I might have been, as some people think that this novel is heavily inspired by VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy. Not having read that myself, I can't say one way or the other. Though I will be adding that series to my list!

Long story short: The Swimmers had a lot of really cool ideas, but the follow through was only okay. I loved the tech, I loved the atmosphere, but ultimately felt a lack in that essential human connection.

Check out more reviews over at Quirky Cat's Fat Stacks
Profile Image for Kelli.
345 reviews7 followers
February 1, 2022
I wish I could rate this higher, because I genuinely enjoyed myself while reading it. This is the second of Womack's books I've read, and I think this one is better than The Golden Key. The writing is stupendous and I will definitely be reading more books by this author in the future.

That said, the structure and pacing of the book left a lot to be desired, which is why only three stars. It seemed like a very front-heavy book, where the narrative spends too long spinning its wheels while the reader is taken through the minutiae of the main character's childhood, then skims right over her adult years all the way to a too quick and too convenient ending. There's almost no denouement; the resolution is rapidly summed up in the epilogue, and I will never get over how stupidly convenient and tidy the ending of this otherwise intriguing book was. I'm also not satisfied with the inclusion of Arlo as a POV character. His sections are short compared to Pearl's, and I'm not sure what the point was other than to set him up as Pearl's savior at the incredulous and abrupt ending of the book. Which is problematic in itself. He never stops feeling like an interloper within the narrative, and that was a major letdown of the book.
Profile Image for Rafael Morillo.
Author 11 books7 followers
April 1, 2021
This story takes place in a future devastated by pollution and climate change. The elites moved away from the surface and now live in a ring constructed over the Earth's atmosphere. Those who live on the surface our socially divided into the techies, their servants the beanies, and the outsiders called the shuvanies. The protagonist is Pearl is mixed techie and shuvanie and is arranged to marry Arlo who lives in the ring. Pearl soon works in the archives where she learns about the Earth and the environment before the Green Winter.

The oceans and lands are heavily polluted and teeming with mutated large animals and plants. Mariam Womack has an interesting concept and I enjoy the message she is conveying regarding the horrors of climate change, pollution, and how it mostly impacts working class communities. It serves as a warning to what is occurring in current day society. I think Marian had some pacing issues in this and the changes in time and perspectives made it confusing for me at times. Sometimes it was hard reading this book and I kind of skimmed through the middle. The concept is what carries this story.
Profile Image for Lauren.
38 reviews19 followers
October 28, 2021
DNF at 46%
Thanks so much to the author, Netgalley and the Publisher for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I read about half of this book. It's a slow, strange, sad story composed of memories and flashbacks from a woman living in a care pod in orbit, waiting to give birth. The earth has undergone profound climate changes and the people left live in a caste system delineated by technology, adaptations and surface/ inside the wall/ outside the wall locations. It is a very interesting society. I enjoyed seeing the different places that the character sees and how her impressions develop. There's a lot about the nature of experiencing space and how the experiences you have change how you interact with and understand spaces.

I couldn't finish this because it made me too sad. Sometimes I'm all for a sad book, but I simply couldn't keep going with this one at this time. I hope that's a positive reflection on the quality and emotional tenor of the book - it was too good at what it did.

I'm sure many people will enjoy this and I would have a lot more at a different time.
Profile Image for Artemiz.
867 reviews28 followers
May 24, 2021
Marian Womack’s The Swimmers is an unusual dystopia. It’s not like all those dystopias, which have ended on silver screen, this does not have a teenage heroine who must save the world and there is no love story that is essential in saving the world.

In this world, things happen after Green Winter, that has changed the desert world into a world with green patches, that are growing and are dangerous to people that still live on earth. Beside the people who live on the surface there are people who live above earth, on a Ring. The green is vibrant and alive and carnivorous, and the animals are big and feral and their fur has neon colored stripes. Everything has changed, but some things are the same as it is now in our world. There are people who are expendable, the oceans are polluted with plastic, if not green the earth is desert dry and people need something to believe in, so they could go on with their life.

Pearl and Arlo, the protagonists, tell their stories in turns, talking about things right now and things in the past. Little by little we get the picture, why they live like they live in this moment, why they make those decisions and how they could go on.

It’s a different kind of dystopia, and that’s why it is an interesting read.
Profile Image for Jae Lin.
183 reviews5 followers
November 18, 2022
a fun eco apocalypse story. the arlo POV was super boring and annoying though lol, but fortunately not the majority of the book; if that had been switched out for an Eli POV it would have been perfect. The world building is pretty solid, but I personally wanted more exploration of the new ecology (maybe evoking some Princess Mononoke vibes!).

overall, a tasty speculative fiction book with solid writing and an interesting world!

Profile Image for Marie Ward.
55 reviews1 follower
May 16, 2021
Interesting story and concept, but something about the nonlinear plot felt off to me. It was a bit messy, especially when also written from two povs. It was as though there were supposed to be big reveals that didn’t really have the shock value I think they could have had. There were also a lot of redundancies about important plot points like the author was worried that the reader wouldn’t get the importance of specific information. This was disappointing because I feel that there are other parts of the story that could have been more fleshed out and were just rushed through.
This future world that the author has imagined is very interesting and I feel that there is a lot of story that could be told about it.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Sackett.
Author 3 books4 followers
May 29, 2021
I have mixed feelings about this novel.

Womack's writing has some beautiful lyricism, the book is heavily inspired by one of my favorite books (Annihilation), and the ending surprised me with its hopefulness.

But the story feels almost completely told in exposition. I felt like I was reading a backstory chapter..... the whole entire time, and I walked away feeling like I never reached the actual active part of the story. Womack, as poetic as she is, never really stops summarizing things, and scenes with active dialogue are few and far between.

3.5 stars and I look forward to seeing her writing develop!
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