Book review: Skin by Kerry Andrew

One day in 1985, eleven year old Matty’s Irish father disappeared. Matty is offered no explanation and starts to hunt for him. Her search leads her to the swimming ponds at Hampstead Heath and she comes to believe he has killed himself by drowning in the men’s pond.

Along with grief, Matty finds freedom in the water and a community of men who provide a kind of refuge from her difficult relationship with her Italian mother. Matty is not an ordinary girl and her mother struggles with her daughters identity.

It began to have its own call. Water has a song, a near-silent lilt. When you got closer – tarn, pool, river, proper swimming lake – the impatience made you sweat.

When her mother dies, Matty makes a discovery in her mother’s house that makes her believe her father is still alive. She sets off in search of him in a camper van, swimming the wild loughs as she travels. Her trip brims with danger and discovery.

The novel is full of layers and includes great beauty, water mythology and moments of magical realism. An evocative novel with themes include loss and grief, journeys, gender and sexuality.