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The Night Swimmer: A Novel Hardcover – January 10, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The premise suggests Under the Tuscan Sun: two Americans win a pub in Ireland and set about restoring the building and getting to know the locals. But there’s no sun here, either in the sky or in the hearts of the characters. Fred dives into his new life as a pub keeper while his wife, Elly, dives into the sea, obsessed with the otherworldly experience of open-water swimming. Soon Elly, when she’s not in the water, becomes enmeshed in the clannish rivalries on a nearby island, and Fred, his pub shunned by the locals, is drinking more Guinness than he’s serving. Bondurant, author of The Wettest County in the World (2008), uses the forbidding landscape of the southern Irish coast, blasted by wind and rain and always in the grip of the ocean, “a kingdom of darkness and cold,” to generate remarkable tension, both psychological and somehow atmospheric, as Fred, Elly, and the warring locals swerve ever closer to the inevitable conflagration. It’s a long journey from the Tuscan sun to Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, but Bondurant makes it feel as natural as the incoming tide. --Bill Ott


"The poignant unraveling of a marriage, the fierce beauty of the natural world, the mysterious power of Irish lore, and the gripping story of strangers in a strange land rife with intrigue and violence--The Night Swimmer is a novel of myriad enchantments by a writer of extraordinary talent."
- IndieBound

"Bondurant's equally strong at constructing an emotional landscape: the fraught, error-prone conversations between spouses afraid of losing their marriage, Elly's clear-eyed descriptions of their shared interest in both the writers and the cocktails of the American midcentury."
- Boston Globe

"Bondurant's mesmerizing third novel, set on the isolated coast of southern Ireland, uses a distinctive narrator, Elly Bulkington, to explore Cheever's fatalistic notion, and in doing so Bondurant has constructed a melancholy ode to Ireland itself." 
- Star Tribune

"Bondurant uses exquisitely sensual language to describe the couple's erotic connection, Elly's experience of swimming (Bondurant is a competitive open-water swimmer himself), the earthy rural life and wild Irish landscape that catches them up as fate shifts from benign to violent in a series of explosive scenes."
-The Daily Beast

"Matt Bondurant does not lay out or wrap up his mysteries neatly, but that doesn't entirely matter: what stands out in The Night Swimmer is its atmosphere and its narrating voice....Bondurant infuses his third novel with a pervasive sense of foreboding and a final act that hits with the impact of an Irish gale."
-Shelf Awareness

“The Night Swimmer,” it seems to me, is best approached — andappreciated — as a tone poem, evocative and often lyrical in its descriptionsof Ireland’s landscape, lore, cadences and character.” —San Francisco Chronicle

"Mr.Bondurant skillfully conjuresthe elemental world his characters inhabit." -New York Times

“Bondurant has written another nervy, robust and suspenseful novel.” --Kirkus

The Night Swimmer is intriguing, seductive, treacherous, and frightening. His writing is so beautiful, poignant, and poetic, that the book is worth a second read.” —Lynne Cox, author of Swimming to Antarctica and Grayson

“Before you plunge into The Night Swimmer, be forewarned: there will be ghosts (and goats), and Gaelic spells cast by black waves of invisible power. But mostly you will be dazzled by the sheer force of Matt Bondurant’s storytelling. In prose as rugged as Ireland’s coastline and just as enchanting, Bondurant has offered up a breathtaking story of what happens when dreams come true and hearts are unbridled.” —Betsy Carter, author of Swim to Me and The Puzzle King

"Bondurant uses the forbidding landscape of thesouthern Irish coast, blasted by wind and rain and always in the grip ofthe ocean, 'a kingdom of darkness and cold,' to generate remarkable tension,both psychological and somehow atmospheric..." -Booklist

“Lush, brutal, and otherworldly, The Night Swimmer is completely transporting. This darkly beautiful love story

—set in Bondurant's distinctively captivating and merciless coastal Ireland—will pull you under.” —Julianna Baggott, author of Girl Talk

"But when Bondurant explores what it is like to push yourself to the brink, whether with physical activity, drugs and alcohol, or lust, he captures an intensity of experience the reader won’t soon forget."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (January 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451625294
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451625295
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,240,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Matt Bondurant's new novel The Night Swimmer (Scribner) will be published in January, 2012. His second novel The Wettest County in the World (Scribner 2008) was a New York Times Editor's Pick, and San Francisco Chronicle Best 50 Books of the Year. His first novel The Third Translation (Hyperion 2005) was an international bestseller, translated into 14 languages worldwide. A former John Gardner Fellow in Fiction at Bread Loaf, Kingsbury Fellow at Florida State, and Walter E. Dakin Fellow at Sewanee, Matt's short fiction has been published in journals such as Prairie Schooner, The New England Review, and Glimmer Train, and he has recently held residencies at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. He currently lives in Texas. (

Customer Reviews

I hate coming to this conclusion, but I think they're just not for me.
Susan Tunis
The writing is beautiful and I did enjoy the descriptions of open water swimming since Dina Nyad has just been in the news trying to swim from Cuba to Florida again.
For the majority of the story, his plot chugs along nicely-with a strong main character and descriptive setting.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Susan Tunis TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I have now read two of Matt Bondurant's three novels. I hate coming to this conclusion, but I think they're just not for me. We're simply not on the same wavelength somehow. The descriptions always sound interesting and intriguing, but then the book winds up a disappointment for me.

The Night Swimmer is the story of Americans Fred and Elly, but it Elly who is the first-person narrator. The novel's lengthy prologue ends on this ominous note:

"This is hard to describe now. I will have to carefully measure the tone. In my mind, it is a story without words, only the shrill cry of heartbreak. I think of how much time I spent with my head in the water, swimming long stretches of the lake or the churning green sea. I think of what happened on that windy shore, the broken harbor, a small pub on the edge of the world, and I am ashamed."

The catalyst for the tale is a contest held by a beer company. Fred bests all competition to win ownership of a pub on the Irish coast. The couple believes it to be a dream come true, and chance to make a fresh start at simpler lives. And at first they're happy, Fred spending his time in the pub, and Elly pursuing her passion for open-ocean long-distance swimming:

"As I read these horrid accounts, I strangely felt all the more confident of my ability to make the swim to Fastnet. I just knew it wouldn't happen to me. It couldn't. It was as if these other people had engaged in some kind of tragic wager with the sea, putting up their lives on a foolish bet, and lost. But for me it wasn't like that. It wasn't about odds, or my natural ability. The ocean was not my adversary. The sea would never destroy me."

It's hard to say when things got ominous, but that they did.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By T. Dotts on January 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Books captivate readers for a number of reasons. Maybe it's a character that reminds you of someone you know or someone you want to know. Maybe it's a setting that you've always dreamt of. Maybe the plot engages your attention fully, refusing to let go even as it twists and turns.

If you're lucky, a book captivates you because of its author's voice and its author's awareness of how to build character relationships and how to maintain suspense. Readers of Matt Bondurant's The Night Swimmer can consider themselves among the lucky.

Bondurant centers his story on an American couple who win a pub in Ireland. Many people might take the cash equivalent of the prize, but Elly and Fred make the decision to leave everything and everyone they know behind. As Fred restores the pub in Baltimore, Elly spends her time swimming in the waters off Cape Clear Island.

Elly has a minor genetic abnormality (an evenly distributed, thin layer of fat) that allows her to spend long amounts of time in cold water. Her communion with the ocean is one of the strong points of Bondurant's writing, likely because he is a long-distance swimmer himself.

A side note - the locations in The Night Swimmer are real, and images are available on the web if Bondurant's word paintings make you want more.

Another strong point of the novel is the bond between Elly and Fred. Bondurant doesn't describe their love in over-the-top prose. He lets his characters' actions speak for themselves. It's clear these two love each other, which makes it slightly confusing when events of the novel begin to overtake their relationship.

Elly and Fred begin to feel the power of the Corrigan family which controls most of the commerce and culture of Baltimore and Cape Clear.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By stephiona on June 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I just devoted a few hours of my time to reading The Night Swimmer by Matt Bondurant, and I find myself really disappointed and annoyed. Am I the only one who feels like Mr Bondurant had no clue how to end this novel? For the majority of the story, his plot chugs along nicely-with a strong main character and descriptive setting. Conflicts arise (some believable, some, not so much) and then....go nowhere at the end. What was the significance of the picture slipped under the door, who was in it? Why does Elly have to go back immediately, and for what? What was the drugging about ? She runs around in the storm visiting people and nothing happens to straighten out the plot lines or explain ANYTHING!
This feels like a book that could have used one more good editing session to knock out a few unnecessary characters and to give the island section a more coherent backstory. In the acknowledgements section at the end of the book, Mr. Bondurant said that it took 8 years to write The Night Swimmer. One would think he would have figured out a satisfactory conclusion in all that time. This book reads like a gothic mystery but without the big reveal at the end.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Wendy L. Hines VINE VOICE on January 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Fred and Elly have a good life, but it's busy. So when Fred wins an Irish Pub in Ireland in a dart competition, they decide to pack it all up and move. Fred studies up on how to run a pub, and Elly is anxious to swim in the waters. She's a long distance swimmer and she's extraordinarily good at it. She has a skin condition that gives her a higher fat density, making it easier for her to float and not drown.

When they arrive, it takes a while to get the pub, called the Nightjar, into working order. While Fred works with various contractors to get the pub ready to open, Elly goes to Cape Clear, a nearby island. There, she stays at a bed and breakfast and begins to know the locals and about the ancient clan, descended from Irish saints, who have ruled the island for centuries.

What Elly really wants to do is swim the Fastnet, a dangerous endeavor. Also, Elly keeps seeing a strange man with no arms walking the fences at night, leading a pack of goats. When she questions the locals about it, they regard her curiously. They haven't seen that person and have no idea who she is talking about.

Meanwhile, Fred is trying to write a novel and spend time with Elly when it allows. Elly misses Fred as well, but her swimming seems to have taken over most of her time. But as the two of them find their lives immersing more with the locals, danger begins to surround them. As it accelerates, their marriage begins to crumble.

With a cast of likable and original characters, a dramatic and beautiful backdrop, a dangerous feud and a local intrigue, The Night Swimmer is a unique journey with complex plotting. Powerful, beautiful writing and remarkable storytelling, you won't want to miss this exciting novel!
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