Happy Monday! Today I’m going to be sharing my review of The Night Swim by Megan Goldin. Before I start, I want to be clear that the book is centred around a traumatic rape trial and so can be extremely distressing or triggering. In light of its strong social themes and the relevance of those themes at present, I wanted to provide a short social commentary after my review. Again, this will discuss sensitive topics so reader discretion is advised.
Many thanks to Megan Goldin, Mirror Books and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
Publisher: Mirror Books
Date of Publication: 4th August 2020
Format: eBook (352 pages)
Content & Trigger Warnings
Rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, murder, attempted murder, victim blaming and slut shaming, alcohol, date rape drugs, parental death, sibling death, foster care/adoption, Cancer, drug use, anxiety, depression, blood, bullying, car accident, misogyny, suicide, child abuse, domestic violence, PTSD, drowning, injury, oppressive language, poverty, classism, false imprisonment, hazing
After the first season of her true crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall is now a household name―and the last hope for thousands of people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.
The small town of Neapolis is being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. The town’s golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping a high school student, the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season Three a success, Rachel throws herself into interviewing and investigating―but the mysterious letters keep showing up in unexpected places. Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insists she was murdered―and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody seems to want to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.
Electrifying and propulsive, The Night Swim asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny? (from Goodreads)
I have so many things to say that I don’t know where to start. Going in, I knew very little except the synopsis and that it handled some sensitive topics. Since I’d been in a reading slump lately, I expected that The Night Swim would take me two or three days at least. But I couldn’t put it down, I finished it in one sitting.
The Night Swim is gut-wrenching, brutal, traumatic and yet deeply impactful. It plays out like a great episode of Law and Order: SVU and yet it goes a lot deeper than the show ever has. The book burrowed deep into my soul, opening up old wounds I’d long forgotten about. It made me sad and angry but I absolutely loved it.
One of the things that stands out to me most about The Night Swim is its timeliness. We’re talking about sexual assault and harassment more than ever. It’s still a taboo but nowhere near how it used to be. Goldin raises specific sensitive topics in such a refreshing way. It’s clear that the author takes the topic very seriously. We’re reminded of the harshness of reality, over and over. That victims and survivors are constantly defamed by the media, society and their peers. The vicious name calling and victim blaming. How the legal system demands more of a survivor than the accused. That sexual assault isn’t always violent or obvious but that doesn’t take away from the shame or trauma.
Rachel was a heroine of a character. Though she’s headstrong, she’s never rude or pushy and always shows compassion and empathy. As much as I craved the arrival of another letter from Hannah, I loved Rachel’s perspective so much that I missed her as the narratives changed.
“When school kids are shot by a random shooter, nobody asks whether the victims should have taken more precautions. Nobody suggests that maybe the victims should have skipped school that day. Nobody ever blames the victims. So why is it that when women are attacked, the onus is on them?”
CW/TW: Sexual assault, rape, victim blaming
It was really important to me not to leave this as a book review but to go further, to discuss its social context and impact and encourage further discussion of difficult topics. Because yes, The Night Swim is fiction. But rape and sexual assault are not. These are very real crimes that take place, thousands of times a day around the globe.
What is sexual assault?
RAINN defines sexual assault as “sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.” This includes rape, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching (groping/molestation) and being forced to perform sexual acts on someone.
What is sexual harassment?
In comparison, sexual harassment is defined as “any kind of unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that makes you feel humiliated or intimidated, or that creates a hostile environment.” This includes sexual comments made about your body, sexual name calling, sexual jokes or rumours.
Why does it matter to me?
The obvious answer. Like too many others, I have been a victim of sexual assault and a victim of sexual harassment on multiple occasions. I can name at least six incidents where I was the victim of sexual assault. And even more times that I was the victim of sexual harassment. It’s happened in private, in the workplace, in school and on public transport. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone because this is generally considered normal or acceptable. (It is neither.) To many, this is simply part and parcel of being a woman.
I hate knowing that there are other people out there suffering. Going through the same traumas. Feeling like they did something wrong – when they didn’t. I hate seeing that resistance, that blame, that idea that victims are responsible for the fact that someone else committed a crime against them. It’s enough to make anyone angry.
And the thing is, so many things that could be considered as sexual assault or harassment are written off as harmless. There’s nothing harmless about a society that teaches people it’s absolutely fine to behave like that while at the same time telling victims it’s not okay for them to feel the way they do. And that’s why this matters.
Attitudes towards victims/survivors
I recently finished watching the Jeffrey Epstein docuseries on Netflix and I was so angry at the way that the survivors were discussed in the media. Pre-teen and teenage girls are not sex workers. They are victims of unfathomable abuse. When you throw in the way that the accused perpetrators of this abuse are discussed in the same media, it’s hard not to be angry.
So let’s get right into the heart of it. In these situations, the survivor is the one whose name is dragged through the mud the most. After all, their character needs to be viciously dissected in order to create doubt in the eyes of the jury. Everything they’ve ever said or done becomes part of a puzzle determined to prove the innocence of the defendant, that the act was consensual or at least justified. This is nothing more than victim blaming.
Why do women blame other women?
Well, this is something I’ve only recently learnt about and didn’t have a reason to talk about – until now. It’s called internalised oppression or in this case, internalised sexism or misogyny. It basically refers to when a member of a marginalised group (in this case, women) internalise the microaggression used against their own group.
If you saw last week’s viral tweet about a woman who’d received a DM from her health care provider on Instagram, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Some of the replies made me feel sick. Instead of focusing on the violation, people were quick to defend the doctor. Arguments generally went along the lines of “he’s a nice guy”, “you should consider yourself lucky” or “if your profile is public, you’re fair game.” Uh, no. That’s not how this works. At all. (And yes, more than a select few of these were from women.)
I don’t know about you but I’m emotionally exhausted after all that. So there you have it, my review of The Night Swim by Megan Goldin plus a short social commentary about the themes explored within the book.
Have you read The Night Swim yet? If so, what did you think? If not, would you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.