On to another good NetGalley read; Josie Lloyd has a penchant for writing ensemble cast novels about women, and she does a good job for this one set in Brighton. The lockdowns feature but not too heavily, giving a believable background. I won this one back in April but I’ve been making an effort to read and review books in the month they’re published, to avoid that issue I’ve had in the past where readers see something they want to buy but then can’t for a bit!

Josie Lloyd – “Lifesaving for Beginners”

(14 April 2022, NetGalley)

It’s comforting to know that her tiny gang on the beach is part of a vast movement of swimmers. When everyone else is moaning half the time, the fact that there are people enjoying the benefits of cold water feels like a massive force for good. She likes o think of the veritably army around the coastline of Britain as hardy, can-do types who get things done. Because that’s the gist of the [blog] post. That swimming in cold water invokes one’s inner superhero.

First of all what I really loved about this book was the age of its protagonists. Tor, dealing with a chronic health issue, is in her 30s and is the youngest of the heroines. Almost-defeated mum Claire is facing the menopause and not coping well as far as she can see, Dominica, bereaved and struggling, is in her 50s, as is Maddie, picture-perfect Instagram and regular upkeep notwithstanding, falling to pieces with an unfaithful husband and lost son, and Helga is in her 70s and being nagged by her niece to move into a retirement community. What do they all (eventually) have in common? Sea swimming (something which apparently the author took up in lockdown: the descriptions of the actual swimming seem very visceral and believable and add a lovely aspect to the realism of the book).

The diversity representation is good – as well as age and menopause, there’s a couple of LGBTQIA characters, someone dealing with potential disability, as well as a woman of colour (though this is incidental – good – but not mentioned as giving her different experiences to the others’ apart from one mention of having to work twice as hard to get to the same place – maybe not so good these days). I have read a couple of other novels set in Covid times, but this is the first one where a character’s partner has died of Covid, so you get stuff about hospitals and the long slog of bereavement.

Sounds like a book full of issues and pain? Well it’s also funny in parts and full of strength, cakes, birdwatching, art, intergenerational friendships, supportive male side characters, swimming and female friendship and support. Characters learn and change and do fearless things; they also support their community through direct and fundraising actions, which is lovely. So ultimately a positive and life-affirming read that would appeal to many different people.

Thank you to HQ for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Lifesaving for Beginners” was published on 7 July 2022.

In a Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment, both this and “Harish Hope” feature a home backer whose cakes are so good they should feature in a cafe – and might end up doing so!