Saturday, February 25, 2012

Review: Matt Bondurant's 'The Night Swimmer' #nightswimmer


I've never been to Ireland, but I've always imagined it as a magical land of green hills, men in kilts and quaint little pubs, ready to satisfy my thirst for good ale, my love of tales of lore and a rousing game of darts.  And because of this romantic ideal, I have to admit that in The Night Swimmer, novelist Matt Bondurant had me at the first line: "It began with a dart, a pint, and a poem, three elements that seemed to demonstrate the imprecise nature of fate."  However, from that point, Bondurant took me on a journey to 'another' Ireland, to an isolated small town frequented by birdwatchers and fishermen and a mysterious island where non-natives are shunned.  He held me there with his lyrical prose, his attention to detail and a story filled with mystery and tension.
 
After winning title and deed to an Irish pub, Fred and Elly Bulkington travel from Vermont to the southern coast of Ireland to begin their new life as the owners of the Nightjar.  A chance at a simpler existence and a dream, where Elly can open water swim in the North Atlantic and Fred can work on that novel he's always wanted to write.  As Fred tries to get the pub in order for the seasonal traffic that promises to keep the Nightjar afloat, Elly swims the waters around Cape Clear, an island southwest of Baltimore.  It is here that the couple become tangled in a web of mystery and intrigue, and begin to drift apart.


Matt Bondurant
Elly has a skin condition that allows her to stay in cold waters for extended periods of time.  She becomes fascinated with a lighthouse on Fastnet Rock, four miles southwest of Cape Clear and is determined to swim to it against the warning of unpredictable waters and dangers that can't be explained.  As Elly says, "Fastnet drew me on, as if it was attached somewhere to part of me I didn't understand or couldn't locate."  Some of the most powerful scenes are the times of thoughtful isolation that Elly experiences while swimming, which is not surprising since Bondurant is himself a competitive long distance swimmer.

While Elly is drawn to Fastnet and to the history and intrigue of Cape Clear and its residents, Fred is working the pub in Baltimore and 'working on his novel', which appears to be random thoughts written on bits of paper. One of my favorite scenes,  a foreshadowing to their unraveling relationship, is of Elly and Fred swimming naked at night at Cape Clear.  Fred wants to dive into the cold water from twenty feet up, and as Elly instructs, they will have to make a huge reach to clear a few feet of rocks below.    "We counted down and launched ourselves into the air, still holding hands at the peak of our flight.  We didn't let go until we began to fall."

There are also things about Cape Clear that "cannot be explained."  The island hides ancient secrets and is victim to a mysterious tragedy that grips the residents.  Additionally, Elly and Fred are caught up in a struggle between the all-powerful Corrigan family and Highgate, an old, blind, goat farmer.  The Corrigans are not above violence and murder to maintain their hold on Cape Clear.  Highgate is fighting to protect his livelihood with the help of a small group of foreign volunteers.

 Setting is a character itself.  Bondurant's attention to detail brings the land to life, alternating between the beautiful and the ominous: a land of curious wildlife and breath-taking scenery, of high winds, menacing storms and perilous ocean swells.  You can almost taste the salty air, feel the cold gusts and hear the waves crashing against the rocks. 
 
Amidst the changing relationship between Elly and Fred, the dark and somewhat mystical secrets of Cape Clear and the conflict between the Corrigans and Highgate, The Night Swimmer is powerful, emotional and captivating…even if there are no men in kilts. 
I couldn't resist...
 

68 comments:

Lorca Damon said...

I love your description, "Setting is a character itself." I swear I'm making a sign for my office wall. All too often we jump into a description of setting and get it out of the way so we can start the action. I'm bad about info dumping the setting so we can move along. Love that insight! (and I love the photo...that's going on my wall, too!)

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, Lorca. I wonder which photo you mean?

Raine Thomas said...

Well, you've just convinced me to add The Night Swimmer to my to-read list! Great review, Kelly...though I agree about the shame in leaving out men in kilts. :) It sounds like a wonderful read!

moonduster said...

Wonderful review. Makes me want to go buy the book right now. I've always wanted to go to Ireland, and just reading the review made me feel as though I was seeing a part of it. The story sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing your review. :)

rebelsowell said...

Excellent review! I bought the book but haven't had time to read it yet. Once I get my school assignments out of the way, I'm diving in. If you want men in kilts, I think you have to go to Scotland. :)

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

You can use the kilted man picture above to glance at while you read!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks. The book is beautifully written, you'll enjoy it.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I've been told I can have men in kilts in Scotland, Ireland and Arizona.

Erica Lucke Dean said...

That was an amazingly well written review. It makes me want to run out and buy this book. And I sort of recognize that picture...hmmm...wonder where you found something so perfect. ;)

-RWWGreene said...

I enjoyed Bondurant's "Driest County" and I am looking forward to this new one. I think I heard it was optioned for a movie?

Suzanne Shumaker said...

I'm hooked too. That first line reminded me of the picture dice game where you have to write a story with all the items on the dice (what's the name of that game?)...So, is the "skin condition" an actual disease? Cool concept either way. Great review Kelly.

Anonymous said...

Nice review, Kellinator ... will get to Matt soon as this semester is over ... I have one of those kilts, by the way ... my wife uses it as a tent during our summer bash at casa stella.

D.C. said...

Wonderful review, Kelly. Wow!

Dillon said...

Sounds like a great book! Can't wait to check it out!!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

See? It's amazing how a picture of men in kilts brings out the kitties. rawr.

Toby Neal said...

Looks like an amazing read, I'll have to check it out. Great review!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

"Wettest County"? Yes, I read movie time for that one. Another great book, of course, I'm partial to things written in the Depression era---plug 'Ragtown' here.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I love that game! Don't know about the skin condition, though.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Charlie, a picture of you in the kilt is worth a thousand words. :)

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, DC.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I think you'd enjoy it.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I hate to say this, but I only finish about half the books I start, because I get bored very easily. I wasn't bored with this one. :)

Karen DeLabar said...

This was an excellent review! I agree with you, setting is a main character and with a character like Ireland how can you go wrong? You constructed a well thought out review that definitely got me interested in the book! Thanks for introducing this work to me!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, Karen. Hope you enjoy the book.

K.T. Hanna said...

This sounds really intriguing. Although I have to say as soon as I saw the title that REM song Nightswimming popped into my head and now I can't get it out.
After this review - I may just have to get it...
Thank you so much for sharing this with me and enticing me without ruining the story!

Stephen T. Harper said...

Kelly, I spent two weeks in Ireland last summer. First trip there. And you know what? It really is exactly as you envision, and as Mr. Bondurant describes it. Winning a pub in a seaside southern town in a bet would be a dream come true. I'm checking out this book.

Kriss Morton-Weekley (@AKMamma) said...

My birth-father is Irish and have always wanted to go especially since my birth-mother was 100% Norwegian.. Viking and Celt blood!

This is book is great! Awesome review now I really want to read the book!

Oh and the book of men in Kilts.. YUMMY! (GRIN) my man wears a utili-kilt I made for him. There is nothing more sexy for me than a man in Kilt.. show me the blue ribbons boys!

Wodke Hawkinson said...

What a great book review! I've a fascination with Ireland and now I'm intrigued by this book. Thanks for the photo at the bottom, too.

Micheal Rivers said...

Love the review. No doubt you convinced me to read the book. I have to know what the mystery is. Anything that can't be explained immediately has my attention.

Glenn Starkey said...

Thanks, Kelly. I enjoyed the review. The book sounds interesting. All the best..
Glenn

tmycann said...

Really lovely review; if your review reflects the lyrical language of the book, I'm sure it will be a joy to read...*shuffles off in search of The Night Swimmer*

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Micheal, you'll be traveling to Cape Clear on your next work vacation! I'm not saying anything else...

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Nothing wrong with a little REM either...Don't you just hate to read a review that ruins the story? I sure do.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Stephen, I know how research intensive King's X was (I loved it, btw) and I think you'll appreciate the research that was involved in this novel. Yeah, I think I could make an Irish pub work. :)

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thank you, Glenn.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Without giving away anything more about this novel, Elly is the narrator, and there is a reason she is very poetic. :)

BWitzenhausen said...

Great review, as usual! I am of Irish descent and would love to visit Ireland one day. "The Night Swimmer" sounds like an amazing read~I will definitely check it out! Thanks!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

One day, I will visit Ireland. I would love to do the 'backpack thru Europe' thing, but always think of the Werewolves of London. lol

Mimi Barbour said...

Well you cetainly caught my attention with this review. Words like powerful, emotional and captivating get my attention, draw me in and have me reaching for my Kindle.

Tim Greaton said...

A fascinating book from the sounds of it. Thanks for letting us know! :-)

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, Mimi.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I've been reading a lot of crime/suspense lately, so it was a nice change.

JustinBog said...

Placing at the top of my books to read stack -- and that's quite a long stack (never ending novels of great power) . . . TY for the tip and the terrific review. I want to swim long distance after your review so I can only imagine what the book will do.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

There is nothing more sexy to me, either, Kriss. Hope you enjoy the book!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I have a fascination with Ireland, too. Always have, which is one of the reasons I had wanted to read this particular book.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Check out the author's website. He's swam in some pretty intense waters. Braver man than I.

debrakristi said...

Wow! Wonderful review. You sold me. Think I’ll have to add the book to my TBR now. Hope it’s as well written as your review. ;)

Christina Carson said...

I think Boburant owes you a commission.The book sounds well worth reading, but the review was one of the best I've read in a long time. Well done Kelly. It sounds like his book deserved a fine review and lord knows he got it!

Amberr Meadows said...

This looks like an amazing read. I love this review, Kelly, it is almost as lyrical as I'm sure the book is.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Great review, you've left me with a tantalising taste of the book itself. I can almost see that little town in my mind...

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, Debra. I think he's got me in the 'well written' department. lol

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Maybe I could get him to put on a kilt? lol

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Quite a compliment from you! I appreciate that.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

The author describes it vividly. I really like that in a book. Give me enough to see it, but let my imagination take over at some point.

legendsofgreenisle.com said...

Wow! Now I want to read the book! (PS. Love the pic with the guys at the end)!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

The book, and the picture, are both pretty amazing. LOL

Unknown said...

Wonderful review. If Mr. Bondurant's novel is as well written as this review, I'm going to love it.

Beth said...

Excellent post, Ms. Gamble. I'll put this on the list

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Why, thank you, Unknown.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

It's list worthy. :)

Kellianne Sweeney said...

Your review was very thorough. I like how you hit on several aspects of the book, both obvious and underlying. A taste from different levels.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, Kellianne!

Michael Tate said...

Great review. I think I'll have to pick this one up in the next couple weeks.

Thanks!

Natalie Kenney said...

I wanted to pick this up after hearing his reading at MVG. Now I really, really want to read it. Guess I'll be heading to the bookstore this weekend. :) Thanks Kel!

Jen Boissonneault said...

Nice review. You never disappoint!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, Jen. I appreciate that.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Yes, I heard the reading, and had to get the book. I guess those readings are good for something.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, Michael. I have it downloaded on my Kindle, which, I have to say, I love my Kindle. :)