A fantastic debut novel with beautiful intimite writing that will completely envelop you ...
Tomasz Jedrowski takes an interesting approach in his debut novel “Swimming in the Dark” which depicts two young men over the course of the summer of 1980 in Soviet-governed Poland. Prior to starting university they meet at an agricultural camp while serving their compulsory labour requirement for the country and embark on a passionate affair while reading James Baldwin's “Giovanni's Room”. It's described in highly romantic terms where the pair are able to form a world of their own: “we lay facing each other, the tip of your nose on the bridge of mine. Nothing else mattered in the dark.” They discover their own paradise in a beautiful, remote rural location. But, at the same time, the threat of Party politics and the punishment dealt for homosexual acts creates an atmosphere of suspense. Their story could go either way. (source)
Written in the second person ... rather like a series of letters to the authors past lover ... the style works perfectly in portraying a personal & intimite coming-of-age story in communist Poland during the 1980's. What makes this story even more poignant is what's happening in Poland at the moment with whole towns decrying LGBT people and declaring LBGT freezones.
The recent election of Andrzej Duda as President and his continuing rethoric & hate towards the LGBT community fuels an already volitile situation. Read more HERE & HERE. We can expect to see an increase in LGBT people seeking asylum in Ireland in the near future and hopefully we will welcome them. (Don't even get me started on why the hell Europe keeps pouring funds into Poland)
When reading this book it hit me in many ways. It was poignant and melonchonic as you know the story isn't going to end well, but, yet it's such a page turner ... you want to get to the end but you don't. (you know what I mean). The book took many years to write and hone and you can tell as it's really well polished. However, the danger of writing a book for years means it can get overworked & sometimes there are too many metaphors but they for the most part are beautiful & lyrical so you don't really notice their ubiqitnious. My favourites were:
“But like stones thrown into the sky with all one’s might, pieces of that night – the boys and the men who wanted them, the flirtation, the codes of seduction I could only guess at – returned to me with even greater intensity than I had lived. The law of gravity applies to memories too.”
“I was paralysed by possibility, caught between the vertigo of fulfillment and the abyss of uncertainty.”
Somewhat autobiographical, Jedrowski intertwines the reality of living in somewhere like Poland (under communist rule homosexuality is illegal), crushes, infatuation, coming-out, corrupt politics and people. Yet he still manages to ask interesting questions:
“How does one bond with another child, as a child? Maybe it’s simply through common interest. Or maybe it’s something that lies deeper, for which everything you say and do is an unwitting code.”
The only negative I would say about this book is that I would have liked to learn more about living in Poland under communist rule ... I'd like more about the oppressive rule and enforced poverty of the general public & the lives of LGBT people. Although that's only a personal preference, I imagine Jedrowski cannot delve too deeply into those topics as it may alienate some of the readership.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will keep it on my shelf amongst some of my other favourite LGBT reads by Adam Silvera, Shaun David Hutchinson & Benjamin Alire Saénz. I will most certainly be rereading it & give this amazing debult novel a nine out of ten planets. The pressure is on Jedrowski now to write his next novel!
John The Captain Ryan