Having watched a lot of swimming during the Commonwealth Games and European Aquatics Championships, I decided to look for a “Girls’ Own”-type book on the subject, and people kindly recommended this one, written in the 1980s but set in the 1950s, by New Zealand Empire and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Tessa Duder. Fifteen-year-old schoolgirl Alex wants to make the New Zealand swimming squad for the 1960 Olympics, but there’s only room for either her or her rival Maggie Benton, and Maggie seems to have the advantage.
Unlike a lot of fictional characters, who are entirely devoted to music, ballet, ice-skating or whatever it may be, and have to be persuaded to do other things too, Alex wants to be in the school play, be in the school hockey team, do ballet, pass her piano exams, do well in her School Certificate and also spend time with her boyfriend Andy.
Like a lot of fictional characters, she suffers an accident (in a hockey match) which upsets her training, but it isn’t really a big deal: she just gets on with things. And we don’t even see that much of her actually in the pool. So it’s quite an unusual book. And very 1980s – first person, lots of internal monologue and short half-sentences, and a lot of angst and anxiety. Alex isn’t super-confident like so many heroines of books are, and spends a lot of time worrying about all aspects of her life and about what other people think of her.
Also, this is national news. This isn’t just a tale of someone at a school: there’s continuous press coverage of the rivalry between the two girls, who actually get on OK.
Then something truly horrific happens, but Alex vows that it’ll drive her on … but, instead of a big showdown at the end, we’re just told that both Alex and Maggie will be going to the Olympics. That ending was inevitable, but it’s strange that it just happens like that, rather than with a dramatic account of a very close race.
It’s very 1980s, as I’ve said. Had it been written in the 1950s or the 1920s, there’d have been a big showdown at the end. And Alex would probably have been devoted to swimming at the expense of everything else, or maybe had to choose between swimming and one other thing. Quite unusual. But I did really enjoy it. Thank you so much to the people who recommended it!