My dream of winning an Irish pub is given a tough reality check – “The Night Swimmer” by Matt Bondurant

September 27, 2012 at 10:22 pm Leave a comment

“The Night Swimmer” by Matt Bondurant, Published in 2012

If you look through my blog you will see that I don’t say this a lot but WOW, I thought this book was amazing.  I will say that I was confused at the end and really wish someone who read it would explain some things to me (these are my shortcomings as a reader not a reflection of the writing). BUT this book is truly well written, well crafted and engaging. I loved it. I now have a huge crush on Bondurant’s writing.

Elly and Fred Bulkington are just middle class folk in their early 30s living in Vermont.  Fred works for a product developer and begins seeking a change when a co-worker dies in the Towers on 9/11. Elly is a swimmer with a bizarre physical condition, an extra layer of fat under her skin, that allows her to swim in cold water that would send the average person into hypothermia.  Fred enters a dart competition hosted by Murphy’s and wins a pub in County Cork, Ireland.  And with that Elly and Fred move to Baltimore, Ireland to live a picturesque life of running a pub and swimming in cold waters. But of course, that is not to be.

When they arrive Elly and Fred discover that the town where their pub “The NightJar” is and Cape Clear island off of Baltimore are full of people who don’t like blow-ins (anyone who isn’t native to the area).  Settling into their new life, Fred tries to make money running the pub and Elly begins swimming in the cold waters of the North Atlantic.  However very quickly both begin to withdraw into themselves, Fred into his drinking and his myriad of projects while Elly becomes obsessed with swimming to the Fastnet lighthouse in a treacherous stretch of water.  Both become dangerously narrow-minded in their quests and lose sight of each other in the process- a lonely endeavor on all fronts. Bondurant also weaves in the story of Highlander the goat farmer and the Corrigans who control everything in Baltimore and Cape Clear illustrating the conflict between progress and the limiting power of the “good ole boys” mentality.  There is a myriad of other characters and side stories as well that round out this story beautifully.

The characters of Bondurant’s creation are quirky, eerie but endearing – their stories are a pitch perfect mix of Irish mysticism, extreme heartbreak, and isolation.  In some ways all of the characters are like the  nocturnal Nightjar birds that will feed “gorging themselves to the point of exhaustion, and they drop from the sky like furred stones.” They will make bad choices based on a narrow-mindedness and cling to those choices even unto death.

Apart from his characters, Bondurant’s descriptions of the landscape are compelling but his writing is at his best when he describes Elly’s swims in the open water of the Atlantic.  It is an amazing examination of the vastness around the swimmer as she battles the elements with the limitations of her body – it is not a necessary battle but for some reason it seems strangely essential.  It is also an illustration of not only Elly but the nature of the people around her who are as self-destructive in perhaps even more dangerous ways.  And as Bondurant quotes from the Journals of John Cheever “when the beginnings of self-destruction enter the heart it seems no bigger than a grain of sand.” But clearly, as Bondurant illustrates, the growth of the self-destructive nature is exponential and it is powerful.

The Night Swimmer

Other reviews of “The Night Swimmer” to check out:

From BookPeople’s Blog

From Young Cousin Tim

From J.P. Bohannon

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Entry filed under: September 2012 reads. Tags: , , .

Where crazy meets brilliance: “Leaving Van Gogh: A Novel” by Carol Wallace Ah love, true love – “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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