Australian literature, Australian women writers, Books, history, Reading, Reviews

Swimming Home by Mary-Rose MacColl

Title: Swimming Homeimage002 Author: Mary-Rose MacColl
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Category: Fiction
Pages: 400
Available formats: PrintPublication Date: 23/9/15
RRP: AU$29.99

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review*

Synopsis: The lone swimmer, turning over now to switch to a perfectly executed back crawl, wasn’t Oxford or Cambridge, wasn’t a man. It was a woman, a girl. It was Catherine. Of course it was Catherine.

It’s 1925 and fifteen-year-old Catherine Quick longs to feel once more the warm waters of her home, to strike out into the ocean off the Torres Strait Islands and swim, as she’s done since she was a tiny child. But with her recent move to London where she lives with her aunt Louisa, Catherine feels that everything she values has been stripped away.

Louisa, a busy, confident London surgeon who fought boldly for equality for women, holds definite views on the behaviour of her young niece. She wants Catherine to pursue an education, just as she did, to ensure her future freedom. Since Catherine arrived, however, Louisa’s every step seems to be wrong and she is finding it harder and harder to block painful memories from her past.

It takes the influence of enigmatic American banker Manfred Lear Black to convince Louisa to come to New York where Catherine can test her mettle against the first women in the world to swim the English Channel. And where, unexpectedly, Louisa can finally listen to what her own heart tells her.


Orphaned at fifteen, Catherine Quick moves from her tropical island home in Australia, to London. She longs for the warm waters of the Torres Strait Islands, and her friends, and swimming. Whilst at school, she swims across the Thames, and this becomes the catalyst for the events that follow, and the journey towards becoming the first woman to swim the English Channel.

Following her unsanctioned swim in the Thames, she is asked to leave school, and she heads to America to meet with a women’s swimming association, where she is given the chance to participate in a few competitive swims. Louisa reluctantly agrees, feeling that a girl of Catherine’s age should be acting in a certain way and wanting to give her access to the best things in the world and the best education for women so she can achieve greatness. As a former suffragette, Louisa feels that it is her place to teach these things to Catherine.

Swimming Home allows the reader to straddle two different worlds: the island life of Australia, and the life that Louisa leads in London. Catherine is caught between following her passion, and pleasing her aunt, two things she is trying to do to fit in with the London life her aunt wishes her to lead, before they make their journey to America, where Catherine’s training finds her friends and for a brief moment, a place to fit in. The passion Catherine has for swimming speaks to any of us who have a passion for something and wish to put one hundred percent of ourselves into it, who want to break free from the shackles of life that try and hold us back and box us into what is expected, what people assume we should be. Mary-Rose MacColl has carefully constructed the worlds of Louisa and Catherine and their collision and eventual coming to terms with what needs to be done to realise what they need to do, and who they truly are to each other.

The mystery of this novel kept me reading, wanting to know why Louisa acted the way she did, and what would become the impetus for her change of heart towards Catherine. It is an exceptionally written novel, one that allows the reader to transport themselves around the locations, to feel the cold of London, and the warmth of Australia, where the immersion in the settings makes you feel as though you are journeying alongside the characters. I look forward to trying to find more of Mary-Rose MacColl’s work.

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