Author: Mary-Rose MacColl
Swimming Home is the fifth novel for Mary-Rose MacColl and the first I have read. It is set in the 1920’s which is a period I am far from familiar with.
I am beginning to really love historical novels because though they are fiction they are usually well researched and give an insight into the time in which they are set. Swimming Home takes us to post-war London where Dr Louisa Quick is running two doctor’s clinics so that she and her business partner can provide medical care to those less privileged. The reason she has two clinics is that she needs to have a clinic that makes money by catering to those better off so that there are funds to run the other clinic.
Louisa is an experienced and talented surgeon but her bedside manner leaves a little to be desired, she is often described as brusque but I think it’s more a case of being socially awkward. Her brother is also a doctor and he left home to do missionary work, settling on an idyllic island in the Torres Strait. His unexpected death leaves behind a teenaged daughter, Catherine, living on the island with natives. Catherine is desperate to remain in her childhood home with Florence and her son Michael but because they are natives the authorities will never allow it.
Louisa met Catherine only once, about a decade ago, but her brother Harry has named her Catherine’s guardian. Louisa is very focused on her work so there is no compromise, Catherine needs to leave behind her island life and move to London; away from everything and everyone she has ever known.
I enjoyed Swimming Home, it was a touching story and you couldn’t help but feel for Catherine. She was removed from all she had known and transplanted into a cold and dreary city where she knew no-one. Her aunt comes across as brusque and is hardly ever home, leaving her to spend most of her time with the housekeeper. She goes to school with a bunch of girls she has nothing in common with and is feeling extremely disoriented.
There were times throughout the story that I found myself wanting to throttle Louisa, I could see the reasons for her behavior but that didn’t make it any less unacceptable.
Catherine is used to swimming, it was a huge part of her life on the island and she swam every day. Part of her issue in London is being cut off from swimming, it’s something she has never had to do before. A silly schoolyard dare finds her attempting to swim the Thames and changing the course of all of their lives.
Swimming Home is set in the beginning of competitive swimming for women and the struggle they were up against to be recognized. A time when women were supposed to be all covered up and the newspaper coverage was more about the glimpse of skin than any serious interest in the sport. The time period is fascinating to me, to think how far we have come.
It was interesting to see Louisa’s stance of Catherine’s swimming and her indifference to the struggle of women swimmers to be recognized. She had to fight for her rights to practice as a doctor after the war but doesn’t see the merit in a fight for the right of women to swim competitively.
Swimming Home had a couple of mysterious little side stories going on that always left you wondering whether the truth would come out and what the fallout would be. All of these elements come together for a cohesive and convincing close to the story that left me, as a reader, satisfied with the storyline and happy for the characters.
MacColl addresses the issues that the islanders faced in the beginning of the last century, as well as the women’s rights movements and a whole host of things that I am never going to have to worry about as a 21st century woman.
As a 21st century woman there were things that happened in this book that I just couldn’t get my head around. Decisions that were made for other women, leaving them to deal with the aftermath which sometimes lasted decades. I could see the reasoning and that the decisions were made in what was deemed to be the best interests of the woman but I still don’t think that’s anyone else’s decision to make, and it made me so angry.
MacColl has written a mostly heartwarming tale of personal development set against the burgeoning world of women’s swimming. An interesting read for lovers of history that will also appeal to anyone that loves a good story.
Swimming Home is book #53 for the #Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2015.
Swimming Home is available now through Allen & Unwin and where all good books are sold.