A Boy In The Water Review (Andrew)

Last year I caught the train to London with Iain.

“Have you got the tickets?” I asked.

An innocuous question, only made less innocuous by the fact the train was pulling out of Glasgow Central.

“No,” he said, “you’ve got them”.

Which I did – or didn’t. Because, while I had them on my phone with all details teasingly shown on my Trainline app, it was just a reservation and not the tickets themselves. The tickets were still sitting unprinted in the ticket machine at Central Station.

I could have cried. But, critically, didn’t because I’m a man and men don’t cry on trains. Not unless they’ve just read “A Boy In The Water”.

“A Boy In The Water” by Tom Gregory tells the story of how he became the youngest person to swim the English Channel. It’s no spoiler to confirm he succeeds, because, unlike most sports biographies, this one doesn’t rely on peril.

There’s a trend in biographies to tease the did he/she or didn’t he/she do it. The first chapter inevitably details some element of danger as the lone cyclist tries to cross the world only to inadvertently cycle into the middle of warzone, on the very day that the local Celtic and Rangers fans are watching the Old Firm game, during a hurricane  – and they get a puncture. Oh my, I definitely need to read all of this now!

Instead, A Boy In The Water, deals with trust and faith between a boy, Tom Gregory, and his coach as he’s pushed to swim further and further. And it’s this trust which provide the tension because it’s never clear how much of the goal was driven by the boy or the coach and whether it was right for an 11 year old to even attempt such a swim.

Written from a child’s perspective, the book is simple and clear, with the relationship explored through a back and forth between the swim itself and the three years of training leading up to it. Training sessions in Dover Harbour, solo swims across Lake Windermere, and a sense of sporting success achieved through coffee mornings, battered vans and digestive biscuits as treats. And very little discussion of swimming. There’s no passages describing swimming strokes, or the goals of any training sessions, just brief powerful descriptions of the swimmers, the coaches and the music listened to on homemade mix-tapes. And, an ending, which managed to show how powerful trust and faith and belief can be and what happens when they’re gone. I may even have shed a tear on the train on the way to work this week as I read the final chapters on the way to work…

You can buy it here: Amazon