The Swimmer, By Roma Tearne

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The Independent Culture

A mysterious animal mutilator stalks the Suffolk countryside. Ria, a solitary poet in her forties, struggling with writer's block, lives in the village of Orford. On several occasions, she sees a young man swimming in the river at the bottom of her garden. Becoming bolder, he steals into her house when she's not looking, helps himself to food and plays the piano. He is Ben, an asylum seeker from Sri Lanka. They become friends, then lovers.

From here on in, the novel loses its faintly spooky air and becomes a more straightforward story about the trials of seeking asylum; about love and bereavement. Lots of bereavement.

The story is technically well-crafted, the Suffolk landscape evoked with vividness, and the theme of loss and the way it colours a whole life very thoroughly done. For me, the first third is the most powerful, though, and after that it becomes rather worthy in a book-groupish sort of way. Indeed, an appendix of questions for discussion confirms that that's the market the publishers have in mind.

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