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February Book Club Review

Soviet, sexuality and social class: the seeds for a fantastic novel that fell a little flat...

Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski is set primarily in 1980s Poland, scattered with snippets from the protagonist’s life in modern-day New York. It tells the story of two young men, Janusz and Ludvik, falling for one another whilst at a mandatory agricultural summer camp. Following a steamy introduction and several swimming-based scenes, the young men embark on a camping trip where, away from the constraints of communist society, they explore their sexuality together. The story touches on so wide a range of important themes – sexuality, politics, social class, love, youth, rural life, religion and reading – that it felt hard to understand the crux of this story. Aside from the predictability of events, lack of humour and the increasingly irritating swimming metaphors (all barriers to the enjoyment of this unique story), there were positive aspects of this novel that sparked an interesting book club discussion.

The question of whether Janusz and Ludwik felt love for one another or just a youthful desire; the amusement of the beetroot farming scenes (spin-off novel, please!); and the narrative describing Ludwik’s life under the constraints of the Party were all telling of a budding talent, clearly able to scatter the seeds of an interesting story – different to anything we had read previously. The references to Giovanni’s Room drew a previous book club pick into the conversation and provided a welcome contextual anchor for our loyal attendees. Overall, the story had much potential, but it was evident that this was a debut novel that lacked the depth, technique, or maturity of other authors we have read. Hopefully in time, Jedrowski will refine his craft, focus his narrative and transition away from writing for the beach-dwelling reader.


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