In brief: Swell, The Hoarder, Daphne – reviews

Jenny Landreth’s swimming memoir plunges into issues of equality, Jess Kidd delves into a world of hidden secrets, and Will Boast gives Greek myth a 21st-century twist

Swell: A Waterbiography
Jenny Landreth
Bloomsbury, £9.99 (paperback)

Swimming, believes Jenny Landreth, “can be a barometer for women’s equality”. Here she tells the fascinating story of the inspirational “swimming suffragettes” who went the extra mile, splashing and smashing through convention. Last week marked the centenary of some women gaining the right to vote, and Swell shows how other rights were denied, too – it wasn’t until the 1930s that women had equal access to swimming pools. Social history is interspersed with memoir of the author’s life in water, from being unable to swim (“the gush of panic at being out of my depth”), to adventures in night swimming. It’s a pleasure to be immersed in this educative, entertaining “waterbiography”, capturing how the author found a profound feeling of freedom.

The Hoarder
Jess Kidd
Canongate, £14.99
Hoarding is a habit that the elderly eccentric Cathal Flood has had for so long that his home, Brindlemere mansion, groans under the weight of objects. Maud, a care worker, is charged with clearing out the clutter. But this eerie, engrossing second novel is most powerful about the non-tangibles that humans hoard: the memories and emotions carried within and the challenge of unburdening. The author skilfully sifts through the secrets harboured in homes and haunting the heart – Maud must also unearth her own painful past in Ireland. The claustrophobic narrative is crammed with detail, yet the strong story and compelling characters shine through, rendered in a beguilingly idiosyncratic, vernacular voice. The tension between concealing and revealing utterly grips.

Jess Kidd
‘Beguilingly idiosyncratic’: Jess Kidd. Photograph: Travis McBride/PR

Will Boast
Granta, £12.99
This engaging debut novel set in San Francisco is a modern-day retelling of the Daphne and Apollo myth. Daphne is born with a rare condition: when faced with strong emotions, she suffers complete paralysis. Her life has become isolated, beset by social anxiety. The pacy plot hinges on her new relationship with Ollie, and whether he’ll be able to draw her out of her shell. Yet this novel exploring “giddy joy” and “jags of terror” appeals not only to the heart but also to the head. The narrator’s past-tense storytelling creates a distancing effect; rather than strongly stirring the reader’s emotions, it makes us coolly contemplate how and why we feel.

To order Swell for £8.49, The Hoarder for £12.74 or Daphne for £11.04, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99


Anita Sethi

The GuardianTramp

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