With summer right around the corner and the recent reopening of swimming pools, I thought that it was a fitting time to reread a favourite book of mine, The Swimming Pool Season by Rose Tremain. The novel focusses on British expats Larry and Miriam Kendal, who have made the quaint and quiet French hamlet of Pomerac their new home. Their move to sunnier climes from Oxford follows the collapse of Larry’s swimming pool empire, Aquazure, but their adjustment to life abroad has been bumpier than anticipated. When Miriam is urgently called to attend to her ailing mother, Leni, back in England, we discover the intricate details of their lives, where unrequited desires, frustration and “what if” questions run amok.
Through the Kendal’s we meet an array of intriguing individuals, all of whom are struggling with life and love in their own unique ways. The quote ‘lines of love and longing, if you drew them, they’d criss‐cross Pomerac like a tangle of wool’ is a fitting summary of the novel, as the characters respective stories consistently collide and divide. The novel doesn’t just study the inhabitants of Pomerac though, but alternates between France and England. In Oxford a rejuvenated Miriam thrives, relishing in the city’s academic and cultural attractions. She even strikes up a new friendship with bookshop owner Dr. O, who quickly becomes infatuated with her.
Meanwhile back in Pomerac, Larry throws himself into Aquazure 2.0, building the new and improved pool in the hamlet. During this time, he learns to prosper on his own (with a little help from chatty neighbour Nadia) and sheds his status as one of the ‘English newcomers’. Pomerac native and local farmer Gervaise is touched by the Englishman’s attempt to breathe new life into the ageing village, and her farm‐hand‐stroke‐lover Klaus – a German baker with the physique of a Greek God and a heart of gold – lends a helping hand with the pool’s construction, building a close friendship with Larry in the process. Even Gervaise’s troubled son, Xavier, discovers his tender side whilst working on the pool. But not all the residents are quite so comfortable with change, including Gervaise’s bitter husband Mallélou who yearns for his adulterous past.
These colourful characters crave conversation – many ‘talk talk talk’ with gusto – but much of the story lies in what is not said, and so I read the novel as an ode to people watching. Little action occurs in this serene tale of sedate towns, but Tremain draws you in and welcomes you to The Swimming Pool Season as though you (like the Kendal’s) are slowly being accepted into the community. Stories merge and experiences are shared, conversations are misinterpreted and opinions are silenced. It is a tale of ‘Birth, death, aspiration, longing, failure, love’, and the perfect novel to dip into when sat outside in the sunshine, wishing you too could be sat in the rural French countryside.
The Swimming Pool Season by Rose Tremain is published by Hodder & Stoughton, 288 pages.