We live in a world of constant change.
That’ll hardly be a newsflash to anyone who’s paying even the smallest bit of attention to the fast-moving pace of the modern world, but if you compare it to the relative slow unfolding of history, where major innovations took decades to take effect, the way things change in the second decade of the twenty-first century is almost whiplash-inducingly rapid.
Not everyone minds this of course; tech companies and building developers live and die on the basis on scarily-fast turnarounds, their bread-and-butter riding on the old giving way to the new with dizzying speed, but as Libby Page’s enchantingly heartfelt debut novel, The Lido (an outdoor pool in England, from the Italian for “beach”) not everyone else is similarly enamoured.
Or at least, not about every last facet of those changes.
“And on the edge of the park closest to her [Rosemary] balcony a low redbrick building wraps its arms around a perfect blue rectangle of water. The pool is striped with ropes that split the lanes and she can see the towels dotted on the decking. Swimmers float in the water like petals. It is a place she knows well. It is the lido, her lido.” (P. 6)
86-year-old Rosemary is one of those rare elderly people who is open to the new and the innovative – she has accepted after a long and happy life that you simply can’t expect where you live, and she has lived in Brixton, London all her life, to always stay the same.
It’s not realistic and Rosemary knows it; of course two things always made equanimously subscribing to this accepting philosophy considerably easier – the near-lifelong devotion of her recently-deceased husband George, and her precious Lido, where she has swim almost every morning of her life, even during the Blitz of World War Two when was one of the rare children not evacuated to the English countryside.
Happily, George and the Lido usually came hand-in-hand, and even after his death, which after 60 plus years of marriage near tore her world in two, she continued to find solace and sanctuary in the calm, blue, early-morning waters of her neighbourhood pool.
Alas progress beckons, and with the local council citing a dire financial state and touting the saving benefits of selling the pool to local developer Paradise Living for conversion into tennis courts, Rosemary faces losing not only an important part of her daily routine but an important link back to her youth, and most critically, one of the last shared connections to George.
Accepting of Brixton’s constant evolution she may be – although the closure of the local library where she worked for decades with her close friend Hope still rankles – with friends among the new and changing landscape of modern Brixton such as bookseller couple Frank and Jermaine, and street greengrocer Ellis and his son Jake, but there are the limits, and the imminent closure of the Lido is most definitely one of them.
Enter buttoned-down, repressed journalist Kate, a junior journalist at The Brixton Chronicle, who exists on a diet of solitude and ready-made meals and is prone to panic attacks at the worst possible times (actually is there ever a good time for them?).
She has lived in London for a few years, first studying for her masters in journalism, and then working at the local newspaper, but she has no real friends, has a close but not actively-in-contact relationship with her sister Erin, and feels lost and alone, watching the world go by but unable to partake in any of it.
The proposed closure of the lido conspires to brings her and Rosemary together, and what begins as a simple assignment to document the people who love the pool and its pretty much certain end soon turns into a friendship that spurs a concerted push to save an icon that doesn’t just mean the world to Rosemary but which revolutionises Kate’s life in innumerable ways, bringing her friends, a new love and the kind of connections and kinship she had long sought but never found.
“She [Kate] thinks about how much of the past few years she has spent feeling afraid. The Panic has ruled her life for so long. before she found the lido she felt as though she was balanced on the tip of a diving board, terrified by the height below her. But finally she is not afraid any more. She is ready to jump.” P. 315)
In some senses there is nothing new and remarkable in The Lido.
It fits a trend of late of heartwarming tales of the socially awkward and the societally dispossessed – think Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman for one – who might new purpose, connection, life and hope in the most unlikeliest and life-changing of circumstances.
But in the midst of this familiarity exists a delightfully charming story of what happens when two people who should have nothing at all in common come to find not simply shared purpose but real friendship that comes to mean the world to both of them.
Written in a sweetly-observant third person style that feels a little oddly clunky at first but comes to feel cosy, welcoming and poetically-insightful, The Lido is above all a celebration of connection and closeness, a reaffirmation of the fact that no person is an island, cliche though it may be, and that all we need each other.
More than that though it acknowledges that though change is inevitable and reinvigorating much of the time, it should be wholesale or indiscriminate and that having the old and the new existing side-by-side is not only good for society as a whole but good for the soul.
Certainly you will finish this gorgeously uplifting book with a smile on your face, a song in your heart and an itching need to not simply get back into the pool, but to reconnect, really reconnect, with the important people in your life as you remember how much you need them and the things that make you indisputably you.