Swimming Home | Mary-Rose MacColl

Brisbane author Mary-Rose MacColl is an ordinary swimmer but she makes up for it by being an exceptional swimmer. This is her fifth novel, her first novel, NO SAFE PLACE, was runner-up in the 1995 Australian Vogel literary award and her first non-fiction book, THE BIRTH WARS, was a finalist in the 2009 Walkley Awards. Her international bestseller, IN FALLING SNOW, was published to great acclaim in 2012. SWIMMING HOME released in October Australia-wide from our friends at Allen and Unwin, it is available at most bookstores or you can get it from HERE. Now enjoy another fine review from Kernel Kate…….all the best…….JK.


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Swimming Home | Mary-Rose MacColl | Salty Popcorn Book Review | Book Cover Image



The race is on for the first woman to swim the English Channel and best selling author Mary-Rose MacColl gives us an Australian in the race in her latest novel SWIMMING HOME, a story of two women who are joined together by family, tragedy and ambition but in personality are worlds apart.

Growing up on an island in 1925 in northern Australia where her father is posted as the local doctor, motherless Catherine Quick is a free spirited, lively, carefree teenager. Between attending the local school and teaching the younger students she is never far from the water and loves nothing more than a three mile swim out to a nearby reef most afternoons, even earning the nickname ‘Waapi’ meaning fish. But all this is set to change when her father suddenly dies leaving Catherine to the care of his sister Louisa in far off London. Despite Catherine’s wishes to remain on the island with their housekeeper, who has been like a mother to Catherine as long as she can remember, Louisa whisks her back to London forcing Catherine to adjust to a new life in wearing dresses and shoes rather than the men’s pants and swimsuits she is used to and into the best school she can find. All Catherine wants to do is swim home to the island.

Struggling to fit in at school and with Louisa always busy with her medical practice as well as the clinic for the poor she runs, Catherine quickly takes up the challenge to swim the Thames when another girl bets her she couldn’t do it. Catherine succeeds spectacularly ending up on the front page of the paper, expelled from school and inviting Louisa’s ire. This soon changes when the eccentric American millionaire Manfred Lear Black enters the scene offering Louisa a chance to work in America and much needed funding for her clinic and Catherine the chance to swim with a women’s swimming club he funds in New York. Is his offer enough for Louisa to leave her clinic, put aside her doubts about the impropriety of Catherine being photographed in a swimsuit and go or is Black too interested in Catherine with something other than swimming in mind?


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Swimming Home | Mary-Rose MacColl | Salty Popcorn Book Review | Author Image – Photo Credit: Mary-Rose MacColl website


Set against the background of the race for the first woman to swim the Channel, MacColl provides us with a fictionalised look at history with many of the supporting characters and Catherine’s friends and rivals being based (some more loosely than others) on the swimmers who were active at the time including Gertrude Ederle who actually became the first woman to swim the Channel in 1926. While it’s hard to know how closely the actions and words of these women mirror real events many of the sentiments and attitudes gel with contemporary accounts lending the story an air of veracity despite being focused on a fictionalised character.

One aspect of the story, which seemed to be under-utilised was the seeming conflict in Louisa’s character. While it’s mentioned several times that Louisa was active in the suffragette movement and was even arrested at a protest she also feels Catherine’s swimming and her swimming attire are not particularly appropriate for a woman and seems to have some incongruous opinions about the right place for Catherine as a young woman. Even when this is brought up with other strong female characters there doesn’t seem to be any development or resolution in this conflict, it just drifts away when she sees Catherine swim and realises being in the water is part or who she is.

With MacColl also penning a blog which among other things details some of her inspirations, her writing process, extra information about the female swimmers of the time as well as blog entries about MacColl’s life and love of swimming and the Australian coast it’s almost a shame some of this isn’t included in the paperback edition in a supplement of some kind. These blog entries were for me an interesting and informative addition and you can really see MacColl’s passion for the subject come through, I’d highly recommend taking a look if you’re not sold on this one yet or are left itching for more. For MacColl’s blog clickety click HERE.

Balancing historical events, fictional characters and family drama SWIMMING HOME brings us a story, which nearly changes history while reminding us of the value of having a place we really feel at home. Following Catherine and Louisa on this adventure is bound to make you want to dive right in.


4 Pops


Having always loved stories one of Kernel Kate’s most frequent childhood memories was her parents telling her in the early hours that it was way too late to still be reading and to go to sleep, but she would always sneak in the end of the chapter. Her love of stories led to a career in movies as well as remaining an avid reader of everything from novels to academic papers and junk mail. She makes a perfect reading machine fit to the Salty Cob.