Saturday 19 October 2019

Night Swimming by Doreen Finn: Heatwave and fear in 1970s Dublin

Fiction: Night Swimming

Doreen Finn

Mercier Press, €16.99

Night Swimming
Night Swimming

Margaret Madden

As the tar melts on Irish roads and a water-ban means recycled bath water, the heatwave of 1976 is also the year that nine-year-old Megan's life changes.

The child of an 'unmarried mother', Megan lives with her mum, Gemma, and grandmother, in a two-storey terraced house in Ranelagh. When they rent out their ground floor to an American family, they are exposed to a whole new way of living: "The world was getting a little bit bigger every time I was around the Americans. So many new words, their sounds exotic, untested. Chillies. Tabasco. The careless shrugging off of Nam. Margaritas."

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Megan and 12-year-old Beth are flung together in a forced friendship, despite their obvious differences. Megan is reluctant to relax, having grown up with mostly adult friendships, but soon sees the benefit of being with the young girl: "She didn't care that I was a fatherless child, the half-orphan other mothers didn't want their children playing with.

"Beth pushed my fatherlessness to the side, laughed at my mother's sins. It made me light inside, dizzy almost. In some small way, it freed me." With soaring temperatures and distracted parents, the two girls take to 'night swimming' - sneaking out of the house while the adults are asleep - bringing the neighbouring Sullivan brothers along for the ride. Back at home, the adults are up to their own adventures and the summer of 1976 will become one they will all remember.

Night Swimming is an outstanding examination of childhood, friendship, family and an Irish society still shrouded in religious control.

Finn writes with a tender touch and each sentence is perfectly crafted, making for a luxurious literary experience.

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