Book Review:Compassion running through The Dolphin just so beautiful
This is the central theme of The Dolphin, the debut novel from Sheffield-based author Susan Clegg.
The book follows three generations of the same family, beginning in the prelude to the Second World War as our tragic hero Larry Lambert struggles with his repressed sexuality and takes a mortifying trip out on a boat called The Dolphin.
The experience itself is over in a morning, but it shapes the rest of Larry’s life, then the life of his daughter Joanie, and her daughter Lottie.
Clegg’s characterisation is gripping, so real it’s uncomfortable. Larry’s buttoned-up wife Rosemary is a masterclass.
We’ve all known a Rosemary - someone so caught up in the need to be respectable she has no idea how to be happy, no idea even that being happy might be an option available to her.
This is a woman whose life is spent in fear of imaginary judgement, trying to be something that’s always out of reach.
What’s beautiful though is the compassion that runs through the book. Rosemary may be deeply unlikeable as she throws around her poison and inflicts trauma on the next generation, but we see the sadness of her life. Clegg resists the temptation to condemn her.
Despite most of the action of The Dolphin taking place inland, the sea is a constant presence.
It’s something that elevates life above the mundane and ordinary, even more powerful as an idea than a reality, and providing an outlet for the longing that pervades the book.
Reading The Dolphin feels like eavesdropping on your neighbours - intimate, real and occasionally excruciating.
But ultimately, this is a striking examination of why we make the choices, take the paths, and feel the passions we do - maybe it can all be traced back to one terrifying moment out on a boat when life’s possibilities were ripped open and we glimpsed what it might be like to be happy.