Title: Swimming at Night (The Sea Sisters)
Author: Lucy Clarke
Read: June 12 - 13, 2013
People go traveling for two reasons: because they are searching for something, or they are running from something. Katie’s world is shattered by the news that her headstrong and bohemian younger sister, Mia, has been found dead at the bottom of a cliff in Bali. The authorities say that Mia jumped—that her death was a suicide.
Although they’d hardly spoken to each other since Mia suddenly left on an around-the-world trip six months earlier, Katie refuses to accept that her sister would have taken her own life. Distraught that they never made peace, Katie leaves her orderly, sheltered life in London behind and embarks on a journey to find out the truth. With only the entries in Mia’s travel journal as her guide, Katie retraces the last few months of her sister’s life and—page by page, country by country—begins to uncover the mystery surrounding her death. . . .
Weaving together the exotic settings and suspenseful twists of Alex Garland’s The Beach with a powerful tale of familial love in the spirit of Rosamund Lupton’s Sister, Swimming at Night is a fast-paced, accomplished, and gripping debut novel of secrets, loss, and forgiveness.
Swimming at Night is the second book about a close sister bond I have read this week, each one quite different in style and content and providing unique insights into the complexities of sibling relationships.
When Katie finds out that her younger sister Mia has committed suicide by jumping off a cliff in Bali, she is understandably distraught, especially since the last conversation she had with her sister shortly before her death ended up in a huge argument. Despite their differences and Mia’s impulsive nature, Katie can’t believe that her sister would take her own life. Presented with Mia’s travel journal, Katie decides to retrace her sister’s footsteps to shed light on the reasons for her actions.
Although the premise of the story really appealed to me and made me instantly request this book from netgalley, I feel quite divided about the execution of the novel and it was not without flaws for me. The idea seemed unique and brilliant – a sister retracing her sibling’s footsteps on an around the world trip in order to understand why she was driven to suicide. With Mia’s tragic death at the centre of the novel, I was very anxious to unravel the mystery step by step, just as Katie had planned to do.
Where the novel didn’t work for me was in its narrative style. There was a lot of telling rather than showing, and the lengthy explanations of past events and relationships stalled the story, especially in the first half of the book. This created a barrier between the reader and the characters which I found difficult to transcend. Perhaps giving Mia a voice in first-person narrative would have lent it more emotional depth and provided the opportunity for flashbacks rather than long-winded explanations. This was especially true for the scene where Mia meets Mick – a crucial point in the story, which never quite reached its full potential. I also felt that certain details should have been withheld in order to create a mystery and keep me interested, to be resolved and brought together at a later stage.
Without emotional connection to the characters, I felt oddly adrift in my reading experience, not being able to understand some characters’ more bizarre decisions and relationships – which I will not go into here because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. The second half of the book worked much better for me, and I felt that the author was finally allowing the characters to break free of their bonds and develop their personalities through actions and dialogue rather than an observer’s narrative. In the later part, the author seems to have found her voice and lets emotions show without filtering them through passionless explanations of a third person viewpoint – I found myself getting slowly drawn into Katie’s quest and even had a tear in my eye at one point.
What I loved about the novel were the moments where the author’s passion surrounding travel and the ocean clearly shone through and there was a strong emotional undertone – especially in the scenes around swimming and surfing. With Swimming at Night being Clarke’s debut novel, there is a lot of room for connecting with her own voice in future novels – and since the idea behind the plot is solid and creative, I look forward to seeing what the author has in store for us next time around.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an electronic preview copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own.