In general I enjoyed this book, though at times it was a bit slow and I had to put it down. At its heart it is the story of a woman, Martha, and her family.
Martha lives in Dover, England and as a ten year old child accidentally falls into the sea. While she is quickly rescued by a friend of her father's, it scares him so much he arranges for her to have swimming lessons - and there begins her love of the sea. The narrative spans some sixty years and at all the difficult times in her life, Martha turns to the sea for strength and solace.
The narrative actually starts in 2014 with Martha's husband, John. It quickly becomes apparent that she has passed away, but that he is suffering from advanced dementia and keeps forgetting that so sets out to the seaside to find her.
After this first chapter the narrative skips back and forth in time and perspective. We learn of Martha's childhood, John's courtship and proposal, her dissatisfaction as a young mother of Iain and Harriet and eventually her cancer diagnosis and John's dementia.
Though she initially gives up swimming upon her marriage, when the children are young she decides that to save herself she needs to swim the channel. She has one aborted attempt but then successfully crosses ten times. On all the crossings John is there in her support boat.
Besides Martha's story, we also learn about Harriet who is disowned by her father upon announcing she is a lesbian and marrying a woman. Harriet cannot forgive her father for that or her mother for failing to stand up to him. However, unbeknownst to her, her wife Iris visits her mother every year with news of Harriet and their daughter, Myrtle. When she turns 13 Myrtle decides to find her grandparents and learns of the cancer and dementia. She reports back to Harriet who calls Iain who has moved to Australia and it is only then that there are efforts at reconciliation.
Though deprived of her grandparents for most of her life, Myrtle is a swimmer and quickly bonds with her grandmother.
Much of the book is quite sad - the rift between the family members, John's struggle with dementia (and its effect on Martha and the others around him) and Martha's cancer. But the fascination with the sea, and its curative effects, is quite interesting. The love between John and Martha, despite all the obstacles, is also very hopeful.
While the book was not fantastic, it was good and is worth reading.