I recently read a book which I had wanted to read for a very long time, Waterlog, by the late Roger Deakin. It was beautifully written and was about swimming which used to be my favourite activity when I was younger. it was about wild swimming, swimming in rivers an open water and started off with Roger swimming in rivers I had swum in so many times when I was young.
I started off enjoying the book, but as i got further into it I was embarrassed to find that I was actually quite bored with it, but I soldiered on. I became reluctant to pick it up… not because it wasn’t a wonderful book, beautifully written, evocative, interesting… but it was all the same. River after river, weeds after weeds, eels, fish, frog-spawn, angry water bailiffs, eccentric swimmers… and gradually I found that it was no longer interesting because it was so repetitious, one river became like another river to me, one swim across a bay seemed very similar to a previous swim in the sea.
A friend of mine absolutely loved it, read it addictively, exclusively, was sorry it had finished and wanted to read more by Roger… So was time? Am I just a poor reader?have i know reading stamina or determination?
It was the lack of contrast for me; yes, I know a book subtitled A Swimmer’s journey Through England should be just that, but somehow for me as a reader it wasn’t enough. There seemed no development, no progress (apart from the miles Roger swam) no variety – and I’m a person who loves river and water!
I guess I like a book which unravels some mystery; even factual books such as the biography This Boy by Alan Johnson, or The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I by Stephen Alford had puzzles which were unpicked and a truth revealed; Waterlog was just that, the log of a swimmer.
In my writing I offer the reader puzzles, sometimes several puzzles in one book, and up until recently each novel has been a stand alone work. It has only been with my last three books which chart the investigation by one man into his family’s history that I have continued with the same characters. However the situation of those characters has changed over the three novels. marriages have failed, children have been born, people have discovered the truth about their parents, and about their own characters. I hope I have shown not just progression but contrast between what the characters were in the first novels and how they have changed and developed in the later ones. Enemies have become friends and friends have betrayed trust; there has been change and movement.
I am not suggesting that Roger Deakin wasn’t an extraordinary writer; he certainly was, widely respected and much praised and loved… but the one book I have read by him, much as I admired it, wasn’t really my cup of tea – or gulp of river water!