Dissident Reviews #2: Swimming at Sunset by Noble Red
Swimming at Sunset follows a nameless protagonist living in provincial England whose life is marked by tragedy. To cope, the protagonist takes up exercise in the form of swimming in the marine lake in the city in which he lives.
This new hobby greatly enriches the protagonist’s life. He meets a young man who becomes a friend. Working out makes him feel good physically and spiritually. He even encounters an attractive woman at the lake who becomes a love interest.
In the midst of this subjective renaissance is a backdrop of objective decay. The protagonist’s work and daily life brings him into contact with undesirables whom he believes are responsible for the decline of his society. Subsequent events fortify him in this belief.
Towards the end of the book, the protagonist uncovers a conspiracy which imperils his own life, but which he feels he must pursue for the sake of doing the right thing, leading to the novel’s zenith in which there may be no way out.
The author creates a world in which only a brave soul could carry on, a sense of totalising tragedy. We are rooting for our protagonist to free himself of the curse of bad luck, the nature of which the author skillfully teases out. This alone makes the book worth reading.
My critiques of this otherwise impressive work are as follows.
First, there is a chapter narrated by the protagonist’s love interest. This is not wrong per se. The problem is it is only one small section, an interlude which in my opinion broke the flow of the story.
Second, the character of Jay has a slightly cartoonish feel. I found myself picturing the Chad meme character whenever Jay featured in the story. Perhaps the character needed to be developed a bit more so that he felt like a real person, like the protagonist's other friend, Graham, whose personality is much more relatable/human.
Third, while the tension was organic and well achieved, things take a turn in the final chapters. The story goes from a heartfelt depiction of a man in the throes of grief to a sense the author is trying to make an unambiguous and partisan political point. I think explicit, pre-conceived messages are best left out of literature. We want a story. A human connection. This is what Noble Red gives us until the last twenty per cent of the book.
All in all, the author betrays talent in terms of language, character and setting development and the creation of suspense. While I think the novel took a wrong turn at the end, I would read future work written by the author.
About Dissident Reviews:
In this series, I plan to review—in a spirit of objectivity and constructive criticism—“dissident” works, by which I mean works establishment publishing houses would overlook for ideological reasons. My motivations for doing so are to:
discover works from outside the mainstream, which I consider politicised and uninteresting;
network with like-minded writers;
promote work I consider good and offer useful critiques for that I think could be better; and
promote my own work.
I am an Australian writer living in France. I am in the process of publishing a three-novel series—the first of which is available here—and have had non-fiction published in Quadrant and Quillette magazines and The Australian newspaper.
Authors are welcome to use quotes from these reviews (with attribution). If you would like me to review your book please get in touch via my Twitter page.