SWIMMING IN THE DARK by Tomasz Jedrowski
William Morrow, 2020
I liked everything about this book except for the writing style–this is where the Aciman and Greenwell comparisons do Swimming in the Dark a disadvantage, because Jedrowski’s novel is a much more commercial creation and the caliber of prose isn’t quite there. There are a lot of painfully on the nose declarations throughout, like “It struck me how little my name meant to me, how absurd it was in its attempt to contain me.” It was just lacking the sort of finesse that its comparison authors are able to achieve more effortlessly.
There’s also Jedrowski’s penchant for similes that started to drive me mad after about five pages:
“I ran and started to shiver all over, like a child who’s broken through ice and fallen into a lake and only just managed to crawl out.”
“A pair of panties. White and lacy, discarded like someone’s fantasy.”
“Your ass was powerful, like two great smooth rocks sculpted by the sea.”
“Winter came early that year. Every week pulled us deeper into its gloom, every day shorter than the last, as if time was running out.”
If you don’t mind that sort of thing this obviously won’t be an issue for you, but it wasn’t really for me and was definitely an insurmountable hurdle when it came to loving this book as much as I had hoped to.
Still, I enjoyed my time with it well enough. It’s a fiercely political coming-of-age story about two gay students in 1980s Poland, both educative and entertaining in equal measure. The Giovanni’s Room commentary is well-employed, the historical detail is immersive, the novel’s structure is impeccable. It’s an intimate, sad, moving story; its characters are vibrant and life-like, and the feeling of loss throughout is palpable. It’s just a bit overwritten.