'Rosemary is 86 but in the water she is ageless.' In Libby Page’s moving debut, The Lido, swimming is both personal therapy and a great social democratiser. It is where the elderly can rewind time: 'She is a young girl swimming in the morning under the watchful gaze of the big clock.' And the pool is where Kate, a lonely, shy reporter on the local newspaper and 60 years Rosemary’s junior, comes in an endeavour to conquer her panic attacks: 'It is all around her, filling up the tiny cubicle… There is not enough air. Her lungs will not breathe like she wants them to.' ... When their lido is threatened with closure, both women are profoundly affected. For Rosemary, her memories are put in jeopardy. For Kate, the chance to report on the story gives her an unexpected professional opportunity and, more important, a chance to become part of a campaign that may rescue her from her own psychological demons ... The Lido serves as a timely reminder of all that we stand to lose through the destruction of our local services, and a celebration of community and friendship.
Kate's investigations lead her to Rosemary, an 86-year-old who has been swimming there since she was seven ... Recognising a girl in need of help, Rosemary encourages Kate to swim, and Page charts tenderly how she grows in confidence...Switching mainly between Rosemary and Kate’s viewpoints, we quickly come to see that Rosemary is just as lonely as her new friend, steeped in a lifetime’s memories of swimming in the lido with her now deceased husband ... Ultimately, whether readers care about the closure of the lido hinges on their attachment to the characters affected. Unfortunately, they are so poorly drawn and so built from cliché, it’s impossible to feel for them. Tension swiftly falls away ... This is only one of many problems, the most significant of which is Page’s prose. At one point, Kate delivers an impassioned speech to her editor: 'The Lido isn’t just a hole in the ground filled with water that a bunch of people happen to swim in every now and then. It’s bigger than that. It’s so big that if you can’t see it you’re not using your eyes the way you are supposed to.' My vision must be off, because Page singularly failed to make the plight of the lido matter to me.
The title, which means 'shore' in Italian, is what Europeans call open-air swimming pools, and it’s where Rosemary, a Brixton octogenarian, swims nearly every day, in all kinds of weather. She’s committed, both because she’s built a community there and because it reminds her of her late husband, George ... Buried in the author’s sometimes plodding style lies an unusually poignant tale of married love as the novel looks back at Rosemary and George’s union. The couple, childless and working class, are the type of people whose stories are rarely told on this side of the Atlantic; perhaps that’s why some of us watch terrible British movies like 'Finding Your Feet.' Those stories pay attention to older, wrinkled, quirky people whose wardrobes are as limited as their incomes. How refreshing, especially since there shouldn’t be an age limit on uplift.