The J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society by Barbara J. Zitwer

15th Mar 2012


Joey is a New York career woman, approaching middle age, who is sent to England to work on a project converting a beautiful old house in the Cotswolds where J.M. Barrie once stayed into a hotel.

Whilst there she encounters a group of local older ladies, each of whom have their own fascinating histories, who go swimming in a freezing pond every day, the basis for a lifelong friendship.

She also meets the local hottie, caretaker Ian, still grieving for his wife and caring for his charming, if cheeky, teenage daughter.

The book is ridiculously predictable and ticks all the boxes for ‘heart-warming’. Of course, Joey is going to learn important life lessons and fall in love and do everything you’re supposed to do in a book like this.

It chugs along nicely and all the ends are tied up in a satisfactory fashion, but there is no kick, no real impetus. It’s a nice little book, but it could be so much more.

The idea of the ladies’ swimming society is so lovely, it includes a manifesto at the front and everything, that the tepid, pithy explorations of the lives of the women in it led to me feeling let-down and frustrated by the book.

I wanted this book to double in size, and decide what it wanted to be; is this a love story, or a story about life-lessons learnt? Joey is a fairly bog standard everywoman, and her relationship with Ian is gauche and unsurprising ; the best part about it being her developing feelings for his daughter Lily.

There is so much scope for conflict; the villages don’t want the house converted, but this is never fully explored.

To be honest, the book appeared half-finished. I want to know more about the Ladies Swimming Society; I want to learn more about the histories of the women. If this book was an introduction to a series I’d be happy.

It’s missed a trick not being out for Mother’s Day, as this is Mamma Mia territory and fans of that sort of thing will lap it up. But for Ya Ya devotees like myself, you’ll end up disappointed – Rebecca Wells this ain’t.

It is however very sweet, accessible and easy to read and if you’re looking for a beach book for some Easter sun, this would be perfect for you.

Published next month by Short Books, you can pre-order the paperback for £5.11.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended for: Fans of Erica James, Lucinda Riley, Jennifer Weiner, Katie Fforde and Freya North.

Other recommended reading: If you read this book and enjoy it, go for any of the authors above. If you want really good books on female friendship, stick to The Devine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells or Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistlestop Café by Fannie Flagg.

Jess Haigh