I didn’t know what to make of Swimming Home because the situation was unbelievable to me. First, there is some timeline confusion because of a short scene dated July 1994 in which Kitty Finch is driving dangerously through the Alpes-Maritimes at midnight with a man. The scene seems threatening, and you get a sense of dread.
Then, the main action of the novel begins with no timeframe, so that you don’t know if the preceding scene comes before or after it or even what year we’re in until there are references later on.
Joe Jacobs, a poet and serial philanderer, has rented for the summer a villa in the Alpes-Maritimes with his wife Isabel, a war correspondent, his young daughter Nina, and another couple. They come home to find a naked woman in the pool, looking dead. She is not dead, she is Kitty Finch, a beautiful but clearly disturbed woman. She makes an unconvincing explanation that the owner lets her stay there sometimes off-season and she got her dates mixed up. It is not off-season, however.
Do they show her off the property? No, they do not. They invite her to stay in the extra room. In particular, Isabel invites her, which gives rise to wondering for the rest of the book.
In fact, it shortly comes out that Kitty knew Joe Jacobs was staying there and wants him to read her poem, “Swimming Home,” which is about suicide. It is clear all the way that the novel is working toward death, but the ending is surprising.
I read the novel for my Booker Prize project, and I’m still wondering about it.