Swimming has come into cultural focus in recent months. In the year of London Fields Lido’s long-awaited reopening, writers nearby have produced a series of books on the topic.
Several weeks ago the Citizen reviewed two works of non-fiction ‘swim-lit’, both exploring the psychological benefits of the natatory life. The Lido, by local author Libby Page, offers a novelistic take on the same theme.
The Lido is a book of counterpoised contrasts – losing and finding, youth and old age, urban anonymity and community – that somehow come together in a narratively satisfying synthesis.
Rosemary Peterson is an 86-year-old Brixtoner born and bred whose local lido provides the backdrop her life. This is where she grew up, fell in love, lost her virginity, bathed throughout her married life and eventually mourned the loss of her husband.
For 26-year-old Kate Matthews, on the other hand, the Brockwell Lido is initially quite alien – she is not a confident swimmer, and her lonely life as a reporter on a local newspaper revolves around work, takeaways and wine. She has found the transition to London from her native Bristol difficult and panic attacks have become a frequent occurrence.
The threatened closure of the outdoor pool brings the two women together: Rosemary launches the first campaign of her life to save her beloved lido; Kate gets involved and in the process discovers unexpected pockets of genuine community amidst the urban sprawl.
The novel is brimming with feel-good pathos, but there is also a sizeable dose of acerbic observational wit – a man pausing to take an arty photo of a street market before popping into the local Iceland shop for food; a greengrocers turned into a bar serving unpronounceable cocktails under the original shop sign. We see the contradictions of London life, but also its quirky harmony.
Heart-warming for swimmers, local campaigners and local newspaper reporters alike, The Lido is a relaxing summer read – perfect, for example, to flip through poolside.
The Lido by Libby Page is published by Orion. ISBN: 978-1-4091-7520-9; RRP: £12.99.