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Book Review: Swimming in the Dark by Paddy Richardson

Swimming in the Dark by Paddy Richardson

This is a powerful novel that works well on every level. I did have to put the book down after the first 30 pages, however, such was my emotional response to the story of a teenager and a person in authority misusing his power in the very worst way. I felt my dread grow as events unfolded, but then I returned to this well-written book to discover a story even more compelling and affecting, where Paddy carefully explores the themes of power and abuse, but also the chance for anyone to have a fresh start.

This is a novel of two parts that comes together in a very dramatic way. Fifteen-year-old Serena has caught the attention of a local police officer who has very dark intentions towards her. As things escalate Serena withdraws from her friends and family – and no one realises the terrible situation she is in. Across town in Alexandra, Central Otago one of her teachers, Ilse, is just beginning her school holiday. She lives with her mother, Gerda, and they live sedate lives built around routine. German immigrants to New Zealand, they are still affected by their memories of living in Leipzig under brutal Stasi rule before they escaped. The two stories dramatically connect when Ilse goes swimming in the local river and she discovers Serena in the process of giving birth, alone and terrified.

This is a thought-provoking novel that moves between the gentle landscape of Central Otago in the current day to the cobble-stone pavements of Leipzgi before the wall came down. At the heart of this unforgettable novel is the bravery of a number of women – characters you will really care for. A brilliant read from a novelist who is getting better with each book.

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