I’ve been searching my whole life for a novel with a female competitive swimmer as its protagonist. Within the past few months I decided I just needed to sit down and write one of my own. And then one day around 6am when I walked into Borders to stock shelves I saw book on display with a cover that looked like a swimming pool. It drew me in. I’ve been fooled before – there are plenty of novels with “swimming” in the title that have absolutely nothing to do with competitive swimming. But this one by Nicola Keegan was for real.
I am disappointed in the book so far because it is nothing like I expected. I wanted intimate details of a swimmer’s life and training, I wanted to know what the pool deck felt like under her feet, I wanted to know what warm-ups at the Olympics were like, I wanted to know what she thought about when she swam. Having been a competitive swimmer for 20+ years, I intimately know what all of these little details were like for me. I wanted to know if another swimmer experienced the same sensations and thoughts or had completely different ones. Philomena, the protagonist, skims over all the gory details. There are lots of details, but the lack of intricate details made me note that Nicola Keegan was never a competitive swimmer.
I looked this up and found that I am correct. She researched competitive swimming and read swimmer’s bios, but she herself is not and never was a competitive swimmer.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this – many writers write about things they have never personally experienced and do so with much succes. But with that said, and despite my disappointment, I think Keegan’s book, from a literary standpoint, is very well done. Her writing is sparse and phenomenal. And I'm sure no one other than myself and any super hardcore swimmers who graze the literary world would notice the missing details of a swimmer’s life.
Now that I think about it, I have read another novel about a female competitive swimmer. It’s called In Lane Three Alex Archer by Tessa Duder. I read it for a book report in sixth grade. I remember feeling vaguely disappointed by that book, too. Alex kept referring to her ‘togs’ and it took me awhile to realize that’s what she called her swim suit. And then I realized she was in Australia in the 1950s.
Until I write my novel(s) about female competitive swimmers, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with a novel about a competitive swimmer.