The J.M.Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society by Barbara J. Zitwer

Oh my, what a disappointment. I expected this book to become a solid favourite but instead it just made me feel annoyed.


The first incentive to read it was the lovely cover and the awesome title. Then I read the back cover and I thought it would be a great book to read. It put me in mind of Mr Rosenblum’s List or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand so I was expecting a sweet, quirky and easy to read story.

It started off great; I loved that apart from the first few pages, it all takes place in Holland Park and a village in the Cotswolds, two of my most favourite places in the world. Holland Park is this fancy area in London with stunning Georgian townhouses and a wonderful park by the same name. I think it’s redundant to say anything about the magnificent Cotswolds, my love for that area is well documented (here and here and here).

It was all well and good but I then started noticing a number of annoying inconsistencies and mistakes. The author is American and it looks like she didn’t properly research life in England, although this might be more the editor’s fault. For example, people in England (and in my experience, all over Europe) have milk, not cream in their coffee. No one would address you using ‘Ma’am’ unless you are Her Majesty The Queen. You don’t knit a sweater, you knit a jumper. Old, posh ladies would not be likely to call you ‘dearie’ when they first meet you no matter how adorable you are. A Scottish person (or anyone really) would never in their right mind serve haggis with a green salad, especially on Burns night. Finally, I doubt this is strictly English but, at equestrian competitions it is not allowed to cheer and yell as that would spook the horses (I learned that when watching the London Olympics last year).

All these things were irritating but, in my opinion, quite minor compared to the book’s biggest flaw: none of the British characters actually felt British. A lot of the conversation was completely unrealistic; mere acquaintances were talking about intimate things and asking personal questions that would be deemed nosy and improper here. It just seemed that the characters lacked the British reserve, privacy and stoicism, they were all too eager to express their emotions. Don’t even get me started on one of the character’s full blown tantrum (not in the privacy of her own home but in front of others)! Apparently Zitwer has never heard of the famous “stiff upper lip”.

Other issues that I had was that the main character was unlikable and seemed very selfish even though most people in the book liked her as soon as they met her. Since the book revolves around the renovation of a stately home, I expected to see something about the reaction of local people to this. A historical manor with associations to a great British author being turned into a hotel would not go unnoticed and I’m sure it would cause some kind of reaction.

Things got worse towards the end of the book as it veered deep into sappy chick flick territory with a terribly saccharine and predictable end. There was a lot of unnecessary and over the top drama that just made me read faster so that it would be over sooner. I thought that his book had a lot of potential that it failed to reach. What a shame.

Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it?


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