Review: Swimming Pool Sunday, by Madeleine Wickham

Title: Swimming Pool Sunday
Author: Madeleine Wickham, aka Sophie Kinsella (S.K. being the pseudonym)
ISBN: 0552996424
First published: 1997
This edition: 1997

This little gem is Madeleine Wickham’s third novel, written before she started writing as Sophie Kinsella. I had previously read her debut novel, The Tennis Party, which was a little weak. Swimming Pool Sunday is a much better novel and I can see little bits and bobs I’d associate with “Sophie Kinsella” starting to emerge.

The novel begins thusly: Louise and Barnaby are a recently-estranged couple juggling custody of their young daughters, Amelia and Katie. One summer morning they end up at a village swimming party, where one daughter is seriously injured in a diving accident. The narrative follows the adults affected by the accident through the ensuing months, as tension rips through the otherwise sleepy English village.

The real strength of this novel lies in its characterization. Although I’d be hard-pressed to identify a protagonist, several characters are given very full treatment. The narration gets inside almost everyone’s head, and several characters are very well realized.

This is most obvious in the case of Cassian, who is the definite villain of the piece. He’s completely odious, and utterly believable as a “bad guy.” By the middle of the book, I was fighting the temptation to scream in frustration every time he had a line.  At one point, another character snaps at him: “Oh, —- off, you little toad,” which expresses my sentiments exactly (p. 156). He is a wonderful example of a character you can love to hate, and exceedingly well written. Well, for a little toad!

Swimming Pool Sunday is well-paced and a quick read, and worth the read for far more people than just Kinsella fans.