The Night Swimmer Review
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I’ve always dreamed of visiting Ireland—of the gorgeous green countryside, the cozy neighborhood pubs. But the small-town Irish setting isn’t nearly as warm and charming in Matt Bondurant’s haunting new novel, The Night Swimmer, as it always has been in my imagination.

After winning their very own pub, Fred and Elly Bulkington follow their dreams from Vermont to the Irish coastal town of Baltimore. While Fred works at the pub, biding his time through the off season while anticipating the rush of tourists in the spring, Elly is thrilled to be able to make regular trips to nearby Cape Clear, a small island that provides plenty of opportunities for pursuing her passion: long-distance, open-water swimming. Due to a genetic defect, Elly can tolerate cold weather, allowing her to swim in harsh conditions—and she takes full advantage of the opportunities near her new home.

It soon becomes clear, however, that life in Baltimore won’t be all they once dreamed. Though Elly manages to make a few friends on the island—mostly among the island’s outsiders—Fred struggles with the pub, occasionally butting heads with the all-powerful Corrigans, who aren’t exactly welcoming to newcomers. And as they adjust to these new and often challenging surroundings, the two gradually begin to drift apart.

The Ireland of The Night Swimmer isn’t exactly the green, cheery place that’s often seen in movies. There’s a little bit of music, a little bit of song, a little bit of dance, but, with just a handful of rugged bird-watchers visiting these small towns in the off season, the environment is harsh and bleak and rather forlorn. Everything seems mysterious and hazy, shrouded in an underlying mournfulness, as the residents keep to themselves, going about their work, coming together each night to drown their sorrows at their neighborhood pub. It makes for a slow and rather dreary read, yet Bondurant’s vivid descriptions will keep you coming back—like Elly—drawn to this fascinating place.

At the same time, though, the writing style is often frustrating—especially the lack of quotation marks. Since the story is told in first person (through Elly’s point of view), you’ll often find yourself rereading paragraphs, trying to determine whether it was supposed to be dialogue—or just a part of Elly’s narration.

The story, too, is quite frustrating. It’s an eerie tale, filled with hints and mysteries—yet very little is resolved in the end. The story builds to a thrilling climax—where everything seems to be coming to a head—only to end abruptly, leaving way too many questions unanswered. In the end, you’ll be left scratching your head, wondering what it’s all supposed to mean.

The eerie tone and beguiling setting of The Night Swimmer do make for a spellbinding read, but the unsatisfying conclusion is sure to leave readers frustrated. So if you’re the kind of reader who needs to find some kind of resolution at the end of a novel, you’ll want to skip this one.

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