The Lido as a Local Oasis
A harmless debut novel about a young journalist and her eighty-six-year-old subject—and the unlikely and life-changing friendship that develops between them. All taking place around and old local lido.
Kate is a twenty-six-year-old riddled with anxiety and panic attacks who works for a local paper in Brixton, London, covering forgettable small stories. When she is assigned to write about the closing of the local lido (an outdoor pool and recreation center), she meets Rosemary, an eighty-six-year-old widow who has swum at the lido daily since it opened its doors when she was a child. It was here Rosemary fell in love with her husband, George; here that she has found communion during her marriage and since George’s death.
The lido has been a cornerstone in nearly every part of Rosemary’s life. When a local developer attempts to buy the lido for a posh new apartment complex, Rosemary’s fond memories and sense of community are under threat.
As Kate dives deeper into the lido’s history—with the help of a charming young photographer—she pieces together a portrait of the pool. It also turns out as a portrait of a singular woman, Rosemary. What begins as a simple local interest story for Kate, soon blossoms into a friendship that provides sustenance to both women as they galvanize the community to fight the lido’s closure.
Rosemary arrives at the lido at seven o’clock every morning. Once she is ready, she pushes open the changing room door and steps into the cold. She would dash if she could. Instead, she walks to the edge, her feet arriving about three minutes after her mind. Her body is not as strong as her will: growing old has forced her into patience.
As she makes her way to the ladder, she watches the other swimmers: a pool full of arms breaking the surface. Only the breaststrokers have faces that you can recognize.
Lowering herself down the ladder Rosemary feels like a tree in the wind. Her branches creak. She lets go and is taken by the water, letting its coldness surround her and getting used to the temperature before kicking smoothly off the side. She begins her steady swim into the mist. She can’t see the deep end but knows that if she keeps kicking she will eventually reach it. Rosemary is eighty-six but in the water, she is ageless.p. 15
When Libby Page writes about Rosemary and Kates swimming, the prose is vibrant and alive. The writer knows water and the community you can find in places like a local lido. But the larger story itself and especially the romantic interest between Kate and the young photographer feels somewhat forced. It is not a particular believable read.
The novel is light at heart and with a nice uplifting story, but by the end you don’t care as much about the protagonists as I would have liked.
Everyone is equal when they are nearly naked. Dentists, lawyers, stay-at-home mothers and an off-duty police officer enter at reception, but in the water, they are all just bodies in varying amounts of Lycra. The men are full of surprises: who wears briefs and who wears trunks? You might think you could guess from seeing them in their dry-land clothes, but you can’t.
Sometimes the most unlikely people are the fastest swimmers. Like the fat man with the hairy back and the too-tight swimming trunks who is a bullet in the water. The opposite is true, too: there is a man who confidently says hello to everyone and stretches like a professional on the side, but swims like a butterfly with a crushed wing.p. 49
The Lido is a charming, feel-good novel that captures the heart and spirit of a community across generation. It manages to get the reader to hang on until the end – even me.
The Lido by Libby Page
Hardcover, 384 pages, published 2018 by Orion