This was a sweet, tender gem of a novel- and for a debut, remarkably self-assured. With deftly-drawn strokes, Libby Page builds a world that’s populated with a painfully real cast of characters, all of whom you care about.
The focus of this story is Brockwell Lido, situated in the heart of Brixton since the 1930s (it’s a real place: I checked!) and the beating heart of the community. Page does a great job in bringing it to life: the space is alive, from the descriptions of the rippling blue water, to the segues into the private lives of the people that use it, from the boy whose parents are getting a divorce, to the pregnant woman who’s finding solace in the lido. But it’s also in danger of closing.
Two of the people who are most touched by- and brought together- by this are Rosemary and Kate, and their stories are heartbeaking and touching in completely different ways. Rosemary is an eighty-six year old woman who has never left the safe confines of Brixton, even during World War Two.
For her, the lido is her life: the place where she spent time with her beloved husband George (remembered in some of the novel’s funniest scenes) to where she has been swimming, every day of her life. But Brixton is changing- a series of subtle, poignant differences that Page evokes beautifully in just a few words- and the lido is being bought up by developers. Enter Kate: a small-town journalist who’s going nowhere fast, who’s battling panic attacks, and crushing loneliness- and who takes up the cause.
These two stole my heart, completely. One of the most remarkable things about Libby Page’s writing is the understated, beautiful way that she depicts the friendship between these two woman, even as she explores their background. From quiet dinners together, to supporting each other without question, it’s the kind of sincere and thoughtful relationship that you don’t see too often in novels. It’s a breath of fresh air, even as she devotes equal time to fleshing out the lives of both Rosemary and Kate, giving you a sense of who they are as people- managing to convey the crushing sense of loneliness that Kate feels, even as she does the same for Rosemary, through the use of flashbacks of her life with George.
At its heart, I think, this is a book about community: the community that the lido brings together; the community of Brixton, which is described as beautiful and vibrant and alive, even if it is constantly changing, and the power that a community can have when it comes together. Beautifully judged, never saccharine and desperately human- because Page has the gift of cutting right to the heart of the matter, showing you just how painful it is to be, sometimes, even as the characters grow and develop- this is a book that has definitely earned the summer hype surrounding it.
In three words: poignant, heart-warming, tear-jerking
Book cover taken from Goodreads