Today, I’ll be reviewing The Lido, by Libby Page, as part of the book’s pre-publication blog tour. I’m so grateful to the team at Orion for asking me to participate. This novel is absolutely wonderful!
Libby Page enraptures readers from the opening lines of her novel with a magnificent, visceral depiction of the London borough of Brixton. It’s a technique she continues to use throughout the narrative, and each time, I was struck by how masterfully Page recreates the sights, sounds, and smells of this small part of the big city. Not only did it make me feel like I was ‘there’; it made it feel so familiar and homely that I wanted to protect it.
At the centre of Page’s Brixton is the lido, an outdoor swimming pool that has been open for nearly a century. School children, professional athletes, new parents and their babies, tourists, and everyone in between have used the lido. One person, however, feels a greater connection to it than most.
Rosemary has lived her whole life in Brixton – she knows the streets, the landmarks, and the people like the back of her hand. The lido has often been the backdrop of important life moments: from treasured memories of swimming lessons with school friends, to her life with her beloved husband, George. He proposed to her there, they spent most of their weekends there, and they even snuck over the wall for a midnight swim leading to a rescue by police officers. Now George is gone, Rosemary’s daily swims allow her to feel close to him still, surrounded by all their memories of the lido.
So when a property development company approaches the local council with an offer to replace the lido with an exclusive tennis court for its residents, Rosemary decides to take action to save it. The flyers she creates catch the attention of an editor at The Brixton Chronicle, who quickly sends a junior journalist to cover the story.
Kate has been living in London for over a year, but still feels out of her depth. She rarely talks to any of her housemates, has stopped visiting friends at home, and is plagued by panic attacks. Covering the story about Brixton’s lido is the first proper assignment she’s been given – it’s her first chance to showcase her abilities for the newspaper.
Almost as soon as Kate dips her toe in the pool (Rosemary’s one condition of agreeing to an interview was that Kate swim there), she understands why the community is desperate to keep it open. It’s not just that she literally feels calmer when she’s swimming, but also that the atmosphere itself is welcoming, vibrant, energising.
Soon, what begins as a simple task for work takes on a much greater significance for Kate, as she begins working with Rosemary to organise a proper campaign to save their lido.
I took my own copy of The Lido to Hyde Park’s own pool at the Serpentine. Even though it was closed until the summer period, I could easily visualise the place busy with eswimmers.
Rosemary and Kate’s friendship is a beautiful driving force of the story. Two people finding each other at exactly the right moment.
I recognised so much of Kate’s life from my own experiences – feeling the pressures of achieving everything at a young age, almost in competition with peers. Page masterfully creates the overwhelming anxiety that often accompanies these pressures – the sense that one is swimming against a relentless tide of vicious waves that prevent us from moving forward. I understood that feeling of inadequacy and isolation, and the need to have someone or something to motivate you to find a new purpose.
Rosemary: what can I say? A woman with so much resilience and charm, determined to do the right thing but enjoy life at the same time. She reminded me so much of my Nan. That’s who ‘my Rosemary’ is. My Nan was such a positive force throughout my life, but I grew to appreciate and value her so much more when I became an adult. Supporting her through the loss of my Grandad, and having her support my family through our losses (even as she was ill herself), I came to understand the real meaning of ‘resilience’. Her love, kindness, and encouragement helped me through some very dark times, and seeing a similar relationship grow between Rosemary and Kate in The Lido was joyous.
They give each other confidence in their individual abilities, and their collective power to make a difference. One arm-stroke, one leg-kick, at a time, they help each other not only to stay afloat, but also to find exciting new lanes to swim in.
As I read, I felt like I was simultaneously being given a comforting hug and a motivational nudge to the ribs to get involved with things that matter to me. Page demonstrates amazing skill in balancing that positive energy with human dramas, emotions, and humour.
The narrative could so easily have felt clichéd but it never did. This felt like a real community – people of all ages, occupations, and backgrounds rubbing alongside each other, and then coming together to defend the home they share when they need to. It didn’t seem like a protest against all development and renovations, but more a call for allowing places to evolve for everyone in the community.
The writing style is accessible and open, so that even when Page details slightly darker scenes, the tone doesn’t become too heavy. This matched Rosemary’s positive attitude, even (or especially) when she was faced with monumental challenges. I adored the narrative shifts between the present time and Rosemary’s memories of life with George. It added so much pathos to the narrative: the human story motivates the campaign to save the lido.
If you’ve been a fan of the recent flurry of uplifting, feel-good books, you’ll really love The Lido. It has so many fantastic elements, all held together by the beautiful central thread of Rosemary’s story.
It’s a perfect summer read, and I hope you enjoy diving in as much as I did!
Thanks for reading!
*The Lido, by Libby Page, is published by Orion Books, due for UK release 19/04/2018
**I was offered a proof copy of this book for participation in a pre-publication blog tour, including an honest review.
***Further details of the blog tour for The Lido can be found below