I expected the swimming hole to be something closer to its name. A small, muddy hole in the ground. But it was big and the water looked surprisingly clear. It was so quiet out on the prairie I imagined I could hear the grass baking in the sun.
Back at Roanoke, I’d told Allegra I didn’t own a swimsuit. It wasn’t one of the many purchases I’d made since moving in. “We don’t wear swimsuits, stupid,” she’d said. “Why bother?” And now, out here with only the wind and sun and sky for miles, I saw her point.
“Strip it,” Allegra said, pointing to my shorts and tank top, “We’re going in!”
I pulled my tank top off over my head, unclasped my bra and threw it aside. “Is it cold?”
commentary: This is the publisher’s description of The Roanoke Girls, expected to be one of the big books of the season in the US, and published in the UK this week:
Lane Roanoke is fifteen when she comes to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin at the Roanoke family's rural estate following the suicide of her mother. Over one long, hot summer, Lane experiences the benefits of being one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls.
I was looking forward to a thriller, a tense psychological book. A lot of people found that in this book, but I didn’t. It was well-written, Engel has a real talent, and she can summon up the prairie summer in Kansas, the small town, the limited options, the burning sun – all this is very well done. The ‘secret’ of the Roanoke Girls is fairly obvious and pretty nasty, and seems blatantly spelled out from very early on - so I didn’t see any surprises in the book, and don’t understand reviews that say it keeps you reading through twists and turns and revelations. To me there was just some glamorization of something outrageous, and a lot of emphasis on how beautiful and attractive everyone involved was.
But what she doesn't know is being a Roanoke girl carries a terrible legacy: either the girls run, or they die. For there is darkness at the heart of Roanoke, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull, she must make her choice…
However, many many women (in particular) obviously love this book, and find the content cathartic in some way - ‘seriously twisted and utterly addictive’ is one typical comment, along with ‘eerily sexy’. Perhaps we all have different forbidden aspects that appeal to us in literature – this most certainly wasn’t the case for me. It did remind me of those Virginia Andrews books, Flowers in the Attic, which were furtively passed from hand to hand by teenagers in my youth – I never saw the point of those either.
So to other potential readers I would say – approach with caution, and if it’s your kind of book then you are in luck…
This lovely picture of a swimming hole is from the Library of Congress and was taken in the 1940s. The caption is
Clothes of swimmers hanging on a telegraph pole, Lake Providence, Louisiana. The children from the nearby farms and neighborhoods go swimming, on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, in the lake.