Turning by Jessica J. Lee

Review published on September 6, 2017.

At the end of her twenties, Lee finds herself in the city of Berlin. Ostensibly there to write a thesis, she has left behind a home, family and quite a lot of heartache in Canada. In a city of 3.7 million people, she is all alone. The thesis plods along, but what motivates her to get up in the mornings is taking a swim in one of the lakes that surround the city. Even though she is swimming solo, there is something reassuring about swimming in the cool dark lakes that help ebb away her inner pain. Knowing how many lakes there are around the city, she decides to try and swim in fifty-two different ones regardless of the season and the temperature.

‘It doesn’t stay this way, but for a few magical moments in autumn the water is crystalline, like swimming through a gemstone.’

What starts as a challenge to get herself out of the house and exploring the area slowly descends into an obsession, finding that perfect lake, luxuriating in the cold waters, watching the clouds reflect in the mirror like waters and floating in a gin clear lake. The ritual of wild swimming gives her a new inner strength and helps overcome the past fears of swimming in open water when she was small in Canada. Winter swims add another level of difficulty as she has to use a hammer to crack the ice from the lakes before sinking into the bitterly cold water.

‘I hear nothing. It isn’t a terrifying, muffled nothingness, but a quiet solitude. Stillness, and I float.’

I have read a fair number of these nature memoirs now where the author seeks solace in the natural world to overcome a set of personal issues and tribulations. This, however, is one of the best that I have read so far. Lee’s writing is beautiful, immersive and effortless. The prose has a clarity and depth that is quite breath taking for a debut author. Her openness of her past issues and descriptions of the lakes that she swims in, the way that she notices the details in the way the seasons turn the lakes are quite something. Lee is an author of some skill and I can highly recommend this.

Paul Cheney 5/4

Turning by Jessica J. Lee
Virago 9780349008349 hbk May 2017

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