Book Review: Swimming In The Dark

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Author: Paddy Richardson
ISBN: 978-1-74353-120-4
RRP: $29.99

Paddy Richardson has written a compelling page turner that left me with a very sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. From the very first chapter I had a feeling that I knew where this was heading, and I wasn’t wrong but I only scraped the surface of what was coming.

Serena Freeman is the youngest child in a troubled family. It’s easy to make assumptions but I will stick to what I know. Mum has had a string of partners, some of them not very nice, and has quite a reputation for sharing her bed rather indiscriminately which doesn’t go down very well with the married women in town. Serena’s eldest sister Lynnie escaped town as early as she could, running away in the early hours of the morning when she was only 15. The boys have been in and out of trouble and it put Serena at a disadvantage from the time she started school – everyone knew the Freemans. Serena is very different from her family, she’s a quiet and studious girl who does well at school and keeps out of trouble. Until the year she starts distancing herself from everyone, and everything.

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The story is told in 3 parts by 4 very different, very strong women.

Lynnie Freeman is the eldest of the Freeman children, living far from home and having vowed never to return. Growing up in Alexandra was not good for her self esteem and still she needs to constantly remind herself how far she’s come, what she’s made of herself. It really leaves you wondering what happened to cut her down so far; it had to be more than the rumours and being shunned because of her mother’s reputation. The phonecall to say that Serena is missing has Lynnie packed and heading home before she can think twice, and she spends the trip thinking about the past and giving us a deeper insight into the past that saw her running in the first place.

Our other two leads are Ilse and Gerda Klein, a mother and daughter living a secluded life in town. Ilse is the spinster school teacher that managed to form a tenuous bond with Serena, regardless of the family reputation. The Kleins moved to town when they escaped Stasi Germany while Ilse was still a child. Ilse longs for her childhood home and friends, and the sense of belonging that she has never found in New Zealand.

Gerda Klein keeps to herself and doesn’t seem to have embraced life in New Zealand, she lives a life of seclusion because she doesn’t trust easily. Slowly we start to uncover the extent of what the Kleins went through in Germany and what prompted their escape.

Swimming In The Dark explores issues of abuse, reputation, family, fear and guilt while illustrating the resilience of the human spirit and our ability to rise above tumultuous times to come out stronger – and that’s exactly what these women did.

There is so much going on in this story and I don’t want to ruin the unfolding of events so I will just say that I was hooked from the very start and surprised by how the story played out. I could see a little of what would happen but the far reaching effects were definitely not what I was expecting.

Swimming In The Dark is a complex page turner that will definitely leave you thankful for what you have and unable to feel anything but empathy for these four brave women fighting to rise above their pasts.

You can find Swimming In The Dark with good booksellers and at Pan Macmillan.

Paddy Richardson can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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