Monday 29 January 2024

The Island Swimmer by Lorraine Kelly #TheIslandSwimmer @reallorraine @orionbooks @FrancescaPear #BookReview


When Evie's father falls desperately ill, she finally returns to the family home on Orkney and the wild landscape she left as a teenager, swearing never to return. Not everyone is happy at her arrival, particularly her estranged sister Liv, their relationship broken after a childhood trauma.

As Evie clears out her father's neglected house to prepare it for sale, lonely Evie finds herself drawn to a group of cold-water swimmers led by her old friend Freya, who find calmness beneath the waves. Together they help Evie face up to the mistakes in her past, unlocking a treasure of truths that will reverberate through the community, and shake her family to its core.

The Island Swimmer by Lorraine Kelly is published on 15 February 2024 by Orion. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

When my proof copy of The Island Swimmer arrived through the letterbox a couple of months ago, I was really surprised, I had no idea that Lorraine Kelly had written a book and was intrigued. I have to begin by commenting on the gorgeous cover of this novel, it is stunning and now I've read the book, I see that it fits the story perfectly. 

Set on the Orkney Islands, this is the story of Evie and her extended family. The author takes the reader through several generations; we learn about Evie's own parents and how they met and married, we learn about Evie's early life with her sister Liv, and there's the modern-day story, when Evie returns to the Orkneys after many years away. 

It's clear, as the story begins, that Evie has many reasons to be afraid to return to the island. However, her father is very sick and she has many regrets about the years that she has missed with him. Sadly, when she finally reaches her old childhood home, she is too late. Too late to try to make amends, too late to say sorry, Evie is devastated. It is her old friend Freya who supports her. Freya has had many challenges in her own life, but she has always been Evie's sanctuary. In fact, only Freya knows where Evie has been for all of these years and has kept her promise not to tell anyone else. 

In 1960, young Cara and Duncan begin to fall in love. Whilst still very young, they marry and Cora makes a home for them, whilst Duncan works so hard to look after their farm. Cora is a difficult woman, Duncan adores her but she has tantrums and bouts of anger that frighten him. After years of sadness and tragedy, they finally become a full family, with two daughters; Liv and Evie.

Whilst the reader is unaware of why Evie fled the island all those years ago, we do follow her to London. She's a sad, isolated figure who carries a burden of guilt around with her. Her only friend is Sophia, a woman who is vibrant and fun and who cares for Evie so much. Her love life, however, is not fun at all, and her choice of man will horrify readers, as it does Sophia. 

This is a cleverly constructed novel, which held my attention throughout. The mystery of why Evie left the Orkneys is such a pull and as she strengthens and begins to have more respect for herself, the reader will rejoice. 

This feels like a love letter to the Orkneys, the sense of place is wonderfully done, enough to send me on a Google chase for trips to the islands! The author has also created a vibrant and colourful cast of characters. The reader will hate some of them, but adore others. For me, Freya was the star, yet Cora was so very interestingly portrayed. 

The Island Swimmer of the title refers to a group of women on the island who call themselves the Selkies, headed by Freya, and who swim in the sea, regardless of the weather conditions. Evie is terrified of water, and this fear has haunted her for her whole life, these women give unconditional support and encouragement to Evie as she begins her journey to heal herself. 

I was so so impressed by this novel. The author deals with some emotional issues and does it with empathy and style. Despite some of the tragedy, there's a real feel-good factor to this one. Characters to take to your heart, who overcome their fears and long held secrets. Highly recommended. 

Lorraine Kelly CBE has worked in breakfast TV for forty years, joining TVam as Scottish correspondent in 1984 and now presents Lorraine on ITV.

She is married to cameraman Steve and they have one daughter Rosie, a journalist and broadcaster.
Lorraine is a Dundee United fan and gets her best ideas when out for a walk with her beloved border terrier Angus.

She first visited Orkney in 1985 and goes back every year.

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