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.
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."
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...|