The Third Swimmer

Until recently, Rosalind Brackenbury was a writer unknown to me. Somewhere I read about her novel, The Third Swimmer. I was drawn to the book by its depiction of pre-War London and, much later, by Brackenbury’s portrait of a village by the sea in the south of France.

The novel is the story of Thomas, an architect, and Olivia who meet just before the start of World War II. They are adrift, worried about a possible invasion and the destruction of their country.

Such damage: it made the whole of life so fragile that it almost stopped your breath. People had labored to build here, had lived all their lives trusting to the solidity of these streets; they had bought vegetables in markets here, and seen their children off to school, and come home from work—and it all could all be smashed in one night?

Out of the blue Thomas proposes to Olivia and equally surprising, she accepts. Thomas enlists in the army, while Olivia takes a day job.

In time, she begins an affair with one of the executives. They become close and their affair continues, in spite of the fact that the executive is married.

After the war, Olivia marries Thomas, but right from the beginning he senses that something is not quite right in their joyless marriage. Nevertheless, they stay together and have four children.

He has known, ever since their war-time honeymoon. His guess was that there was somebody else, another love, something impossible for her to forget in spite of what she protested.s

Several years later, Thomas arranges a trip to the south of France to try to recover their lost love. They drive to Cassis a small town on the coast, not far from Marseilles.

Out here in the sunlight, with madame bringing their breakfast, the hum of morning rising from the little town, shops opening, people sluicing water down the streets and across the dust of the square, it’s all right. The world they are in is all right, he thinks, it’s exactly as good as it can be, considering what has happened to it.

Rural France comes alive on these pages and so did their marriage after Thomas, in very rough seas, rescues a drowning woman far off the coast and barely survives himself. This brave act brings the two closer than they have ever been.

The way back always seems shorter than the way out. The roads of the south, which once seemed so endless, are quickly gone; the towns they pass through no longer look strange. On the drive up through France, she sits beside him.


Linda said...

This writer is unknown to me as well. This book sounds good. I am always interested in the mystery of romance and marriage.

I see you are still on your WWII binge. I saw Dunkirk this weekend - so very good. What a time, what an awful time - how easily it could have gone the other way.

Richard Katzev said...

I am eager to see Dunkirk, but it was mobbed at the theater this weekend.

Mostly I read The Third Swimmer because of its depiction of Provence, there isn't much about WW 2 in it.