I have loved being a member of NetGalley so far for the sheer number of excellent books I’ve been lucky enough to read, including some great ones recently. This was a real smasher – so much so that I couldn’t stop reading it – I mean, could not stop, work on hiatus, tears splashing onto the kitchen table as I worked my way through to the end. It’s lovely, and so good for a debut novel, too.

Libby Page – “The Lido”

(12 March 2018 – NetGalley)

Now, there have been a fair few feel-good books out recently, with uplifting topics and lovely communities, and I’m a bit of an old cynic and think some of them are either a bit sugary or a bit airy-fairy. This is neither. Yes, it’s a lovely positive book with diverse characters working to help each other, but nothing is actually unbelievable and it’s all just lovely, but with a tang and depth to it, as all lovely books should have.

I’m also a bit wary of things that smack of writing exercises. Here, the portrayals of the inhabitants of estates in South London or the people who swim at the Lido, some of them a few sentences, little sketches, could be like that. But they’re not. They’re warm, they’re well-observed, and they’re threaded carefully and cleverly through the book, too. The descriptions of swimming are lovely, too, and very well-observed, and make me wish I was more of a swimmer myself. But I also loved the description of the healing power of exercise, which I understand very well.

I’ll admit to a bias here. This book is about Brixton, a place I know reasonably well, and the Lido in question is Brockwell Lido, and I almost rented a flat overlooking Brockwell Park back in the 90s. Of course, this could go both ways – but I think the portrait of the two places is beautifully and faithfully done. Phew! It’s not in-your-face inclusive and po-faced and box-ticking, but fun and diverse and joyful. Really joyful.

Of course, it’s not all joy and fun. If you’ve seen anything about this book (and how can you have not? It seems to be everywhere – but that’s OK!), you will know that the two central characters are an elderly Lido user who has lost her husband and possibly her purpose, and a young journalist who’s terribly alone in London and really just skimming along the surface with The Panic waiting to catch her at every turn. When the Lido is threatened by cuts, they end up teaming up and forming an unlikely but lovely friendship. And all sorts of people from the local community join in, but each has got their secret worry, from the bookshop owners who aren’t making quite enough money to the lad revising for his exams and hoping he’s reversed the turmoil he’d slipped into. And it’s not at all clear that the Lido can be saved.

The local newspaper office is beautifully done and I loved all the different locations in Brixton and Rosemary’s musings on the many identities the shop fronts have taken on over the years (there’s a lovely moment when she visits an achingly trendy cocktail bar, just because …). Intertwined with the modern-day story is the story of Rosemary and her George, whose whole lives can be tracked through their times spent at the Lido.

A special novel about a special and real place. I loved it – and it had me weeping twice, not because of anything terrible, but it was just terribly moving. I hope the author goes on to write many more lovely and life-affirming books like this.

Thank you to the publishers, Orion, for making this available via NetGalley and choosing me to receive it in return for an honest review. This book was published yesterday, in print, Kindle and audio versions, and I urge you to read it.