The Swimmers by Joaquín Pérez Azaústre

Astonishing. Strange and very insightful. A must-read.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 230 pages.
Read from June 26 to 28, 2016.

I’m pushing this review ahead as I need to process what I just read. That, and I need to thank Netgalley for graciously allowing me to review this book. I asked to review this book for numerous reasons. For one, I love the cover, two, I use to be a swimmer so, obviously, and three the plot description looked mysterious and interesting. I was not disappointed. I was however torn between giving this book 3 or 4 stars. I am still trying to put to words what the book is about exactly but ultimately I was intrigued enough to barely put the book down, hence the 4 stars.

Jonás Ager is a young professional photographer, who is dealing with the fallout of a rough break up with a woman he really loved. His schedule allows him to go swimming daily, and often with his close friend Sergio, a busy business man who takes his lunches swimming in the pool with his friend. Jonás took up swimming at a young age and the insistence of his father in order to deal with a spinal deformity that can affect his breathing. His daily swims are also a way for him to escape some of the realities of his life as he struggles to overcome the break up. His photography career begins to suffer as his assignments start to dry up, despite being approached to think of a new gallery piece, and ever more pressing, his mother has mysteriously vanished. Yet she isn’t the only one that is going missing. Every day Jonás wakes up to find that there seem to be a few less people around. It’s as if everyone is disappearing into thin air.

This meager plot summary does little to cover the depth of this story. It’s as if there is a duality to the photo gallery idea that Jonás’ has, which is about disappearing and what places look like after people are gone, and the disappearances that are happening in real life. The book itself is not a mystery, yet it is ominous that random people continue to disappear and seemingly without reason. The focus is rather on Jonás and how he is disappearing, figuratively, from his own life. After his mother disappears, Jonás reflects on his childhood and his current state in life and uses swimming to escape his current reality. His friend Sergio appears to have the perfect life, a life that  Jonás almost had. The two of them admire a swimmer they have nicknamed Aquaman for his ability and ease in the water. They all swim together often yet they have not spoken to him.

I have so many question about certain scenes or characters that I’m not certain about or how they’re supposed to  fit into the plot. Such as Leopold, the older man that Jonás frequents lunch with. Is he supposed to reflect the relationship he should have had with his father? What is the relevance of Oliver, the young missing photographers that  Jonás worked well with? Is he another reflection of the success Jonás could have had as a photographer? And what the heck was Sulla’s character all about?  Jonás is asked to photograph Sulla, who is really looking for information about his own missing daughter and when  Jonás doesn’t have any information he invites him to his club where he will pay him for the pictures. Sulla then drugs Jonás and violent scene ensures that abruptly comes to an end in the next chapter with little explanation. It was a riveting scene, just perplexing.

The title of the book is also plural, implying the book is about more than one swimmer. So could that mean that Aquaman a reflection on what Jonás could be as a swimmer or has the potential to be in life? Is Aquaman a mirror to  Jonás? As even when almost every person in the city has disappeared,  Jonás still finds Aquaman at the pool. Additionally, as the book is so focused on  Jonás, I don’t get the impression that the title is meant to include Sergio. Perhaps I should re-read some sections… These questions and sense of confusion is the reason I contemplated giving the book a lower rating. However perplexed I became with the book, I can’t deny how much I enjoyed it.

I loved  Jonás’ character and all of the descriptions and scenes of swimming. I am so intimately familiar with how swimming makes Jonás feel. Even if you are not a swimmer, you will still appreciate the tranquility it provides Jonás.  I also enjoyed the nostalgic plot line.  Jonás is nearly 30 and is contemplating all of his perceived failures in life, a scenario that any person nearing 30 will likely recognize. And yes, I am a month away from that momentous birthday so perhaps that’s why the book spoke to me.  The writing is also  memorizing and dream-like and full of comforting images that will feel familiar.

I seem to be enjoying books from authors whose native language is not English lately. If you can’t tell,  Joaquín Pérez Azaústre, is a Spanish author. Perhaps my inclinations have to do with living abroad but I also think that these types of authors are able to navigate through the English language in ways that native speakers cannot. It’s like a good author of many languages has a better understanding of how to get the best of each word or phrase. It’s a style I’m becoming addicted to.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book for the nostalgic and familiar scenes that Jonás takes the reader through. In terms of recommendations, I think that this book would appeal to anyone who is interested in literary fiction, is or was a swimmer, or is nearing their 30s and is wondering why they don’t have their life pulled together yet. Great read from a promising author!



Author: thepluviophilewriter

I have an obsession with running, pole dancing, cats, video games, books and angry music. I also like to write. Read my book reviews.

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