Libby Page’s debut novel The Lido has been on my book radar from the moment I first heard about it on Twitter. My own local lido reopened in 2015 (after lottery funding enabled its restoration) and a novel set around one under threat sounded interesting. That it also had at its heart an age-gap relationship between two women made it all the more appealing to me, as I’m lucky enough to have some great intergenerational friendships. Here’s what it’s about:
Meet Rosemary, 86, and Kate, 26: dreamers, campaigners, outdoor swimmers…
Rosemary has lived in Brixton all her life, but everything she knows is changing. Only the local lido, where she swims every day, remains a constant reminder of the past and her beloved husband George.
Kate has just moved and feels adrift in a city that is too big for her. She’s on the bottom rung of her career as a local journalist, and is determined to make something of it.
So when the lido is threatened with closure, Kate knows this story could be her chance to shine. But for Rosemary, it could be the end of everything. Together they are determined to make a stand, and to prove that the pool is more than just a place to swim – it is the heart of the community.
There’s a lot to love about The Lido, and its two main characters are key to this. I think most people will identify with Kate’s feelings of loneliness and anxiety in a big city, whether or not they’ve experienced it for themselves, and how she perceives other people’s lives either through social media or thanks to family dynamics closer to home. Or they’ll feel for the character of recently-widowed Rosemary, her love of the lido closely linked to that of her husband, the water giving her a freedom and grace she no longer feels on land, and the ways in which she touches the lives of those around her. She made me hope that everyone has at least one Rosemary in their lives. I know I do, and I’m grateful for them. They know who they are.
It didn’t take me long before I was willing both of these women on to succeed in their personal battles, as well as the more publicly-fought fight to save the lido. Around these two, Libby Page sketches in a community of people: some are more successfully done than others. I didn’t quite get a handle on Phil the paper’s editor, Jay the photographer or Geoff the lido manager but this wasn’t a major issue. They’re secondary characters and others such as Ahmed, Frank and Jermaine and their dog Sprout, Hope and especially George more than make up for it. In fact, George made a surprising impact on me for someone who died before the book opens. He comes back to life on the page, as Rosemary relives their relationship.
Just as Kate finds herself being drawn into the story she’s working on for the local paper, I suspect most readers will feel the pull of the community around the pool. I don’t think there are many places that haven’t seen some level of development, gentrification or improvement which has forced the closure of places we once knew, or loved and valued, even if a little too late. Rosemary has faced these changes before and wonders at one point where the people who once sheltered in the library where she worked now go. It’s a good question. And there’s a touching scene where she revisits another place she knew well and has a drink there, surrounded by its new clientele. I may have had something in my eye at this point.
The Lido is a wonderful novel filled with humour, tenderness, love, loss and hope. I didn’t want to surface from this joyous beauty of a book: it’s a great debut and an interesting mix of intergenerational friendships, the changing face of a city and creeping gentrification, love and how that can be tied to a place as much as to the other person, and a lido under threat of closure. It’s the story of finding your tribe and belonging, of forging connections and friendships, of becoming part of a community, of a love affair with swimming and of another with a person, both of which can last a lifetime. It’s a beautiful love letter to friendship, community and open air swimming, and I can only recommend you taking the plunge.
The Lido by Libby Page is published by Orion Books on 19 April and is available to preorder as an audiobook and ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery. To find out more about Libby Page, her writing and her swimming, check out her Author Website, or find her on Twitter and with her swimming sister on Instagram.
My thanks to Rebecca Gray at Orion for sending me a proof copy of the book for review.
The Lido blog tour started on Monday 26th March and runs until Saturday 21st April. Be sure to go and check out some of the great blogs taking part: