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The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner
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The Lost Swimmer

by Ann Turner

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This did nothing for me - poorly developed characters, implausible relationships and a pretty ludicrous plot that is mostly just red herrings and stressing out. The weirdly aggressive minor characters scattered throughout Italy were super weird as well - anyway, can't win them all I guess. ( )
  mjlivi | Feb 2, 2016 |
To me THE LOST SWIMMER reads like a book written by a committee. At least that’s the only way I can think of to describe its disjointedness and almost schizophrenic sensibility.

The biggest issue of this kind is what kind of book it is. I’m not normally one to get hung up on labels (in fact I’ve been known to lament their restrictiveness) but someone – I’m not sure if it’s the publishers or author or someone else in the chain – has gone to some lengths to market this book as literary. The word appears in publicity material – both with and without the word thriller attached – and there are even a series of book club questions in the edition I read (which, I’m afraid, I always find insufferably patronising). Not only does this over-emphasis give the impression that someone thinks literary fiction is intrinsically better than the popular kind (another sentiment guaranteed to get my hackles rising), but it draws attention to the fact that the book doesn’t fit any definition of literary fiction I can think of. It’s at least as much plot driven as it is focused on exploring any particular theme, it does not demonstrate much in the way of social commentary (insightful or otherwise) nor are its characters terribly well developed. It’s protagonist – an Australian archaeological professor called Rebecca Wilding – is not noticeably more complex than the average human and the rest of the characters are entirely one-dimensional. Some of the descriptive passages provide good imagery but I suspect that owes more to the author’s screen-writing credentials than any literary sensibility the book has in its own right.

But the book isn’t what I’d call a thriller either. There is a lot of stuff happening all the way along but most of it isn’t very suspenseful and much of it is simply odd. For example there’s a whole passage involving an altercation between Rebecca, her dog and a kangaroo that I’m sure was meant to be metaphorical (confirmed by the inclusion of this passage in one of the book club questions) but just felt way too contrived to me. The book’s major dramatic event doesn’t happen until about two thirds of the way through, which wouldn’t have mattered except that the publicity made such a big deal of it that I was waiting for it from the outset. Impatiently. Until that point there is just a lot of white noise. The university where Rebecca and her husband both work is going through hard financial times and both their faculties are having to radically cut costs and sack people. Then Rebecca is accused of financial fraud. At the same time she begins (for no reason that I can actually pinpoint) to suspect her husband of having an affair. After the big event the book is more squarely thriller-like, though there are a lot of implausible coincidences crammed into the last third of the book in order to bring about a resolution.

Another aspect of the book I struggled with is Rebecca herself. On the one hand she is head of a university department an expert on a particular archaeological period and has a good reputation amongst her colleagues. In short she is fairly ‘together’ and competent. She rather suddenly develops a kind of paranoia – about her husband’s potential affair and the activities of her boss – but there’s no consistency to her thinking or behaviour. I’m not troubled by whether or not her fears have validity – that’s a legitimate question for the narrative to answer – but Rebecca just doesn’t seem to me to be a recognisable person from the beginning of the book to the end. In one chapter she behaves one way. In the next another that doesn’t gel with what went before. One moment she’s wondering which of the women in his life Stephen is having an affair with and being surprised to learn he has started investing in the stock market after they’d agreed he never would. The next she is asking her friends to ‘give her some credit for knowing her husband’. I suppose this could all be put down to Rebecca’s status as a first-person narrator – often unreliable beasts – but to me it just tell as if each version of her had been written by someone different.

THE LOST SWIMMER was the most reviewed crime novel for last year’s Australian Women Writers challenge so I was keen to read it but found myself disappointed. I concede that’s partly to do with the expectations that the publicity and popularity inevitably set but that’s not the whole story. I think the book tried too hard to be something it isn’t and in so doing failed to be what it ought to have been. In reaching for but not achieving literary status it neglected the foundations of a good suspense novel; taking too long to build up its drama and being too obvious in its plotting (I lost count of how many times I muttered ‘show don’t tell’ under my breath as I was reading). It did keep me reading to the end but, if I’m to be totally honest, more so I could sit back in smug satisfaction at having predicted the main plot points than because I was genuinely interested in what happened to Rebecca or her husband.
  bsquaredinoz | Jan 29, 2016 |
Writers who take the decision to build their novels around characters who are less than sympathetic, veering towards frustrating, appear to be making one of the braver literary decisions you can come across. Needless to say Rebecca Wilding is a difficult prospect in THE LOST SWIMMER.

The central narrator, with the story told in the first person, Rebecca has the sort of mind that's difficult to spend time in. Incredibly passive and dangerously whingy she seems to almost relish the things that go wrong in her life. For somebody who is a Professor, and Head of Department she's a surprisingly easy target to set up. From the allegations of financial impropriety and fraud, to the possibility that her husband Stephen is having an affair, Rebecca seems unable to perceive danger no matter how much piles up at her door, and seems strangely unwilling to actually precipitate any sort of confrontation, or any sort of action that might resolve things.

Instead, after she, and her favoured staff in her University Department are accused of everything possible from a Dean with a chip on her shoulder and a desire to annoy everyone in range, Rebecca heads off to Greece in the hope that whilst she's over there, she can solve the conspiracy that's happening back at home, and win her husband back. Which is an interesting decision on any level, not just because at this stage she can't prove / doesn't necessarily know for sure that Stephen's actually having an affair.

The pace of the book is also teasing and languid, building pace slowly, although there could be many readers who spend the first half wondering what the point of everything is - especially as there is a lot of opportunity to pick the instigator of the frame into which Rebecca willingly walks. Where THE LOST SWIMMER really excels is in the descriptions of landscape, and sea and in some of sub-characters who were vivid and engaging.

Obviously THE LOST SWIMMER is a book that's exploring the nature of love and trust. It's uncomfortable when you're looking at a relationship from inside the head of somebody so conflicted, so fragile, so unsure particularly when on other levels she must be competent, intelligent and capable. An odd experience to read, THE LOST SWIMMER is definitely quite a conversation starter and will probably be one of those books that readers either love or hate.

http://www.austcrimefiction.org/review/review-lost-swimmer-ann-turner ( )
  austcrimefiction | Jul 14, 2015 |
Rebecca Wilding is having a tough time at Coast University, particularly with the Dean of the Arts faculty, Professor Priscilla Chiton, who seems determined to make her life hell. Priscilla used to be a friend, but now Rebecca suspects she is having an affair with her husband Stephen, Professor of Economics. Rebecca also suspects that Stephen may be dabbling on the stock market again.

Suddenly things start to go very wrong when accounting irregularities crop up and Rebecca is accused of siphoning university funds into her own accounts.

There were some heart stopping moments in this thriller, particularly when they are driving a red sports car up a narrow road on the Amalfi Coast.

Stephen's disappearance leads to Rebecca becoming a chief suspect for his possible murder, and she goes on the run from the police, attempting to track him down in Paris, where she thinks he is meeting up with Priscilla.

A good read: a debut novel from a female Australian author. ( )
  smik | Apr 18, 2015 |
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Rebecca Wilding, an archaeology professor, makes sense of the past for a living. But suddenly, truth and certainty are turning against her. Rebecca is accued of serious fraud, and worse, she suspects - she knows - that her husband Stephen is having an affair. Desperate to find answers, Rebecca leaves with Stephen for Greece, Italy and Paris, where she can uncover the conspiracy against her and hopefully win Stephen back to her side, where he belongs. There's too much at stake - her love, her family, her work. But on the idyllic Amalfi Coast, Stephen disappears. In a swirling daze of panic and fear, Rebecca is dealt with fresh allegations. And with time against her, she finds help in the most unlikely places, and uncovers the secrets that stand between her and Stephen - and the deceit that has chased her halfway around the world.… (more)

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