Wednesday 22 February 2012

REVIEW - 'Swim The Fly', Don Calame (Templar, 2011)

Fifteen-year-old Matt Gratton and his two best friends, Coop and Sean, always set themselves a summertime goal. This year's? To see a real-live naked girl for the first time — quite a challenge, given that none of the guys has the nerve to even ask a girl out on a date. But catching a girl in the buff starts to look easy compared to Matt's other summertime aspiration: to swim the 100-yard butterfly (the hardest stroke known to God or man) as a way to impress Kelly West, the sizzling new star of the swim team. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Can I just say, before I begin, if you're not a fan of American Pie, The Inbetweeners, toilet humour and knob jokes, then maybe this book might not be for you. If, like me, you're a big appreciator of all of the above, then I'm pretty sure that you'll get many a chuckle from Swim The Fly.

This is a book that boys will probably love. I say probably because I have never been a teenage boy, but it's a pretty safe assumption. The American Pie comparison tells you most of what you need to know about this  - it doesn't cut as close to the bone as this film, but the central premise, protagonist and comedy are very similar, and they both share very funny set pieces about loose bowels. I won't go into further detail.

What I loved the most about this was the glorious prose - so natural and with such a ring of truth about it. The whole effect is so effortless, which probably indicates the exact opposite - it takes a supreme skill to be able to pull off prose this good. Since I've started to read YA on a regular basis, I've come across so many stories where the author has attempted to find a convincing teenage voice, but has, instead managed to create something forced and slightly cringy. These characters bounce off each other and create snappy exchanges. The relationships here are just spot on  - 

'Sometimes I hate my brother. Like real, deep down, wish-I-could-beat-the-snot-out-of-him hate. It'll pass. It always does. He'll do something out-of-the-blue nice and all will be forgiven. But right now I want to push him down the stairs.'

Now, anyone who has a sibling can testify to the fact that this IS FACT. The man is a genius.

A key part to my enjoyment of this was Matt. He's a great narrator - likable, self-depricating, shy, funny, a bit of a doofus. Something there that most can identify with. Most of the (male) supporting characters are just as well-developed and believable. However, the two main female characters, object-of-affection, Kelly and her best friend, Valerie are a touch one-dimensional. Valerie is just, well, nice. And that's about it. There was never enough there for me to decide whether I liked her or not. Matt's Grandpa had to be my favourite though. Think George Constanza's Dad from Seinfeld. Pure comedy.

A couple of things stopped me from completely adoring this - maybe because so much of the prose had an authentic ring to it, many of the slightly contrived set-pieces stuck out for the wrong reasons - would three boys really think they could get away with cross-dressing to get into a girls changing room? Would this idea even occur to them? Again, I've never been a teenage boy, so I could be wrong.

Also, it could have done with being a bit shorter. The pace that was set in the first few chapters started to drag in the final third and once it was clear where Matt's story was going, the plot seemed to just drift towards it's natural conclusion with slightly less spark than it started out with.

Nevertheless, I would highly recommend this. But only if the phrase 'that's what she said' makes you chortle.


  1. Oh I've had this book on my shelves for absolutely AGES, I really must get around to reading it soon.

  2. Definitely worth a read - it's so well written with some cracking dialogue!