A Taste of Chlorine

The universe presented in this book is pretty much composed of the aquamarine of the swimming pool, in a similar way to A Waking Life being the summation of an entire existence in a rotoscoped dream-world. But while Linklater's film spends ages introducing us to a variety of phantasms which talk our ears off about their outlook and beliefs, in A Taste of Chlorine, the big question is posed in one scene at the centre of the book. The protagonist asks whether we are destined for a particular life project. He is unsure himself, but desperately wants to know if anyone feels that they could die for something, or never let go of something. The reply he receives from a girl in a swimming pool who gave up competing professionally is somewhere in the middle. She swims as much as she can, but she won't devote her entire existence to her passion. Indeed, she gives up and leaves the pool when her boyfriend has had enough. For many of us, unfortunately, this is the settlement we have to reach.

The book ends with the protagonist in the same position as his friend, except he cannot even grasp that something that he will never let go of. He sees a phantom of the girl swimming ahead of him, but he cannot reach her – he almost drowns in the process, but manages to grab the sidelines and safety.

The book's panel borders look like the uncertain surface of a pool of water. That permeable barrier runs like a thread through the book: the open air is for broken conversation, the depths are for silent observation. We don't really know what is going on with the mysterious muse directing the protagonist's swimming lessons. She tries to mouth her answer underwater, a kind of attempt at telepathy. But on the way out of the pool she gets cold feet: "I'll tell you on Wednesday", and of course she never comes back. The book ends with more mouthings from the mystery girl (expressions of thanks to the people in the Acknowledgements perhaps) before she swims away to the surface, leaving us underwater, with only the vaguest intimations of her meaning, or her author's.

The impersonal but public space of the swimming pool is built for this kind of exposed but wary interaction. Swimming is a lonely activity, but your vulnerabilities and mistakes can nevertheless be examined by strangers. Our bodies, and the thoughts they harbour, are our own. But they are also available and scrutinized by others. It's a clever way to characterize our experience of the world, and our mitigated and imperfect interactions with the people in it

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