SECOND OPINION: Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley

Review published on April 6, 2017.

Alexandra Heminsley thought she could swim, but having committed herself to a one day ‘Pier to Pier’ course in Brighton, she rather embarrassingly found out she couldn’t. However, having previously managed to go from non-runner to marathon competitor (see Running Like a Girl), she was determined to conquer her fear of the water and become a swimmer. But not just an up and down the swimming baths swimmer, she wanted to swim in the sea.

This book chronicles her struggles, her determination and her eventual success. It doesn’t matter whether you are already a swimmer, thinking of taking the plunge or never intend to go near water, this is an enjoyable humorous read.

Take for example, her description of trying to get into a wetsuit for the first time: … the loneliest place on earth is halfway into, halfway out of a wetsuit. and that is where I got stuck…. All I had managed to do was create a baguette-width roll of wetsuit … an unwelcome arse-shelf’. I have to say, after reading this, I am never, never going to try and get into a wetsuit!

Heminsley is well aware that ‘body shame’ – whether in a wetsuit or swimming costume – is one of the main reasons that a lot of women don’t swim. She beautifully describes the difference between real women’s bodies and those seen modelling swimwear in magazines etc. As the assorted shapes and sizes of women emerge from the changing room at her first proper class, she feels ‘Now I walked among humans. The relief.’

It is this honesty and humour that makes this book such a delight to read. She doesn’t gloss over any of the difficulties she faced, but uses them to give useful information for anyone also considering learning to swim. Determination is important but so is adaptability, ‘changing your plans when what you’re doing isn’t getting you where you need to go.’ Good advice in other situations too.

The book is in two parts. The first part is about how she learnt to swim and also gives an insight into her life and her character. At the beginning of the book, she has just got married; by the end they have faced some tough times together. The second part is straightforward information about swimming – a sort of beginner’s manual.

This would be a slightly unusual choice for a book group, but I think there is enough in it for a good discussion. Then you could all go for a swim!

Maddy Broome 4/4

Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley
Hutchinson 9780091959593 hbk Jan 2017


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