“Middle England, mid-1980’s. The kind of place where nothing ever happens. Except something has happened. A fifteen-year-old boy called Robert has died, down by the pools. And half a dozen lives will come unravelled.” – back cover, The Pools.
I couldn’t summarize it any better than that (I tried!). This book has two narrators; Howard, Robert’s father, and Joanna, his friend. Robert dies at the very beginning of the book and the remainder is spent discovering just how he got there, an examination of the lives surrounding the boy and just how they’ll be affected by this tragedy. Howard narrates Robert’s family life, while Joanna covers his social life. Both narrators are distinct, with their own voices and personalities, and it’s very clear that they both belong and make up two halves of this stunning book.
Perhaps the most affecting character is Howard, who is genuinely kind and well-meaning but never quite manages to get a grasp on Kathryn, the wife that he loves so much, or his son, whose life always seems hidden and secretive. He tries so hard, and somehow it’s never enough. On the other hand, we witness his rigidity and unwillingness to compromise or accept his family for what they are, despite how much he loves them and desires to understand them. He reminds me of a conservative who has a good heart, but is completely close-minded. He seemed very real to me as I was reading, and I wished I could open his mind to the reality of life before it was too late.
Joanna, the other main character, is only coming to discover herself as she struggles with her identity and her sexuality. As someone who has emerged only a few years ago out of the misery of adolescence, her experiences, although very different from mine, struck a chord with me and I could feel for her confusion.
The best part of this book is certainly how it creates a tapestry of lives and demonstrates how pulling out just one thread – Robert’s – will have an astronomical impact on all of them. Very little is written about the aftermath of Robert’s death, but his place in the hearts of so many is established and the author doesn’t need to describe what happens in much detail. She builds a community and proceeds to tear it apart in the reader’s mind.
I’d definitely recommend this book. It came on me as a shock and I found it to be profound, moving, and compelling. You can pre-order this book on Amazon.com, or if you’re in the UK, you can buy it now from Amazon.co.uk.