The Night Swimmer
An “evocative and often lyrical” (San Francisco Chronicle) novel about a young American couple who win a pub on the southernmost tip of Ireland and become embroiled in the local violence and intrigue.
The Night Swimmer, Matt Bondurant’s utterly riveting modern gothic novel of marriage and belonging, confirms his gift for storytelling that transports and enthralls.
In a small town on the southern coast of Ireland, an isolated place only frequented by fishermen and the occasional group of bird-watchers, Fred and Elly Bulkington, newly arrived from Vermont having won a pub in a contest, encounter a wild, strange land shaped by the pounding storms of the North Atlantic, as well as the native resistance to strangers. As Fred revels in the life of a new pubowner, Elly takes the ferry out to a nearby island where anyone not born there is called a “blow-in.” To the disbelief of the locals, Elly devotes herself to open-water swimming, pushing herself to the limit and crossing unseen boundaries that drive her into the heart of the island’s troubles—the mysterious tragedy that shrouds its inhabitants and the dangerous feud between an enigmatic farmer and a powerful clan that has no use for outsiders.
The poignant unraveling of a marriage, the fierce beauty of the natural world, the mysterious power of Irish lore, and the gripping story of strangers in a strange land rife with intrigue and violence—The Night Swimmer is a novel of myriad enchantments by a writer of extraordinary talent.
Still waters run deep in Bondurant's atmospheric third novel, fluidly narrated by Elly, a six-foot, freckled, flaming redhead. Ominous extracts from the journals of John Cheever at the head of each chapter help set the tone. Soon after 9/11, Elly and her husband, Fred, move from Vermont to Ireland after winning the Nightjar, a village pub on the coast near Cork, in a contest. Elly, a world-class swimmer, looks forward to swimming off a nearby windy island. But Fred and Elly are far from accepted in the village, in which centuries of friendships and rivalries rule. Elly eventually discovers the body of an eccentric villager she knows floating in the sea. Was it a suicide? Bondurant (The Wettest County in the World) excels at depicting his wild setting ("On Cape Clear you are always leaning into the wind"), but is less sure in drawing his two main characters, who, passionately in love at the start, suddenly become quarrelsome. The couple's mental and emotional unraveling may be as incomprehensible to the reader as the murky doings of the locals.