THE GIRL IN A SWING. (1980) A NOVEL BY RICHARD ADAMS.
BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Beautiful, haunting erotic love and an absolutely terrifying ghost story.’
The New York Times Book Review.
A Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection.
At the time of writing this book review, I haven’t actually seen the 1988 film that was made from the book, but reading the film’s entry on Wikipedia certainly helped to clarify a few things that were left unexplained in the book, lol.
Not that I didn’t enjoy reading the book. Quite the contrary. I loved reading it. It gave me something to look forward to on those cold dark January nights just gone. It was a fantastic read right up until the last thirty-five pages or so, after which things became positively baffling and I admit I was disappointed by the ending, because I felt that the mystery surrounding Käthe, the joint lead character, hadn’t been resolved at all.
The book is an erotic mystery/suspense novel, written by the guy who wrote WATERSHIP DOWN. You know, the anthropomorphic rabbits? ‘Bright eyes, burning like fire…?’ Song made everybody cry? Ah, you know it. Well, this sexy, bordering-on-pornographic oeuvre was a bit of a change of pace from the poor wee bunnies. It’d really make you wonder how you’d go on to write one after the other…!
Anyway, the book is the story of Alan Desland, a quiet young intellectual Englishman who has made himself an expert in pottery and ceramics after the death of his father, whose ceramics shop he’s inherited.
The cultured Alan lives quietly with his widowed mother, in the very house where he and his sister Flick, now married with a child of her own, grew up. They live in a lovely quiet country town and it sounds idyllic, except for the fact that Alan hasn’t met the right woman yet and he’s starting to wonder if he ever will…
He stops wondering when he meets Käthe, a beautiful, mysterious young German secretary, on a ceramics-related trip to Copenhagen. Without knowing the first thing about the girl (indeed, he never really does), he falls head-over-heels in love with her and proposes marriage to her.
They get married and honeymoon in Florida, on the suggestion and offer of free accommodation from a business acquaintance of Alan’s. Then they come home to England, and straightaway Käthe is a huge success with Alan’s friends and family and even the women who work in his pottery shop.
Käthe really is the perfect wife. She’s a superb cook, she knows how to save Alan a few pennies here and there on the housekeeping, she becomes knowledgeable about ceramics and even acquires for a gobsmacked Alan the pottery find of a century (The Girl In A Swing), although to call it the find of several centuries might be nearer to the mark.
And the sex! My God, the sex. Alan goes from being impotent with her to becoming almost like one of his creator’s anthropomorphic bunny rabbits, rutting with his lovely young wife all the livelong day and night. They even have sex on the kitchen table once, while a whole roomful of acquaintances and friends wait for them just next door in the sitting-room. The dirty beasts!
Alan comes home from somewhere once to find Käthe naked as a jaybird and ready for loving on the swing in the back garden. Naturally he obliges her, and, when she wants them to have sex on the public beach as well one day, he obliges her in that too, the lovesick fool. (Their simple garden swing becomes the ‘sex swing’ of Joey Tribiani’s dreams in sitcom FRIENDS, lol!)
You know the word, uxorious, right? As in having or showing an excessive fondness for one’s wife? Well, that’s Alan Desland for you. As Käthe is unlike anyone he’s ever known before, and possesses a deeply ingrained sexuality that entraps, enslaves and enchants him, she quickly becomes the thing he cares about most in the world, maybe even more than his precious ceramic figurines.
But some things are happening around the young couple which give Alan no slight cause for concern, and which seem to be connected with Käthe in some way. There’s the sound of rushing water in the night, with no visible source for the noise. There’s the sighting of a corpse on a Florida river-bed, and the morphing of a seemingly harmless green cushion into a stuffed green tortoise toy for some reason…
Then there’s the sound of a child crying in the garden, but, if she’s only in the garden, why can’t Alan find her? Whose is the big black dog on the heath, and why is he hostile to Alan but not to Käthe? What’s Mrs. Taswell got to do with the price of fish? And why does she put me in mind of Billie Whitelaw as Mrs. Baylock in DAMIEN: THE OMEN (1975)?
Then there are all the dreams of drownings and drowned people, and then comes a night of such horror in Alan’s childhood home that he doesn’t demur when his distraught missus begs him to take her away from their house and bring her to… the sea, of all places. But, what with all the water-based ill omens that have been plaguing Alan so far, what on earth makes him think that the sea is a safe place to which to bring Käthe…?
The book falls apart at this point. Nothing makes sense any more. There’s a REBECCA-style inquest and a shame-faced confession of nudie seaside lovemaking but nothing that explains the dog, Mrs. Taswell or the dreadful night of terror in the house.
As I said, I probably learned more from reading the film’s Wikipedia entry than I did by reading the end of the book. I’d read 325 pages looking for a pay-off that never really came, which was immensely disappointing.
One minute, I’m reading what I feel might be a genuinely spooky piece of folk horror set in a breath-taking countryside location (the countryside is a surprisingly fabulous setting for a good horror story!), and the next, kablam-o…!
Still, the first 325 pages were spellbinding and breath-taking, and you should still read the book if ever you come across it. So long as you know that the end is confusing and doesn’t really explain much.
And that The Girl In A Swing is a real group of porcelain figurines, which lends a good deal of authenticity to the plot of the book. Unfortunately, it’s not authenticity it needs, but some clarity as to what really happens in the end. Oh well. Win some, lose some. It’s all grist for the mill at the end of the day. Happy Swinging…!
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.