The Night Swimmer

A Novel

The Night Swimmer

An “evocative and often lyrical” (San Francisco Chronicle) novel about a young American couple who win a pub on the southernmost tip of Ireland and become embroiled in the local violence and intrigue.

The Night Swimmer, Matt Bondurant’s utterly riveting modern gothic novel of marriage and belonging, confirms his gift for storytelling that transports and enthralls.

In a small town on the southern coast of Ireland, an isolated place only frequented by fishermen and the occasional group of bird-watchers, Fred and Elly Bulkington, newly arrived from Vermont having won a pub in a contest, encounter a wild, strange land shaped by the pounding storms of the North Atlantic, as well as the native resistance to strangers. As Fred revels in the life of a new pubowner, Elly takes the ferry out to a nearby island where anyone not born there is called a “blow-in.” To the disbelief of the locals, Elly devotes herself to open-water swimming, pushing herself to the limit and crossing unseen boundaries that drive her into the heart of the island’s troubles—the mysterious tragedy that shrouds its inhabitants and the dangerous feud between an enigmatic farmer and a powerful clan that has no use for outsiders.

The poignant unraveling of a marriage, the fierce beauty of the natural world, the mysterious power of Irish lore, and the gripping story of strangers in a strange land rife with intrigue and violence—The Night Swimmer is a novel of myriad enchantments by a writer of extraordinary talent.
  • Scribner | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451625301 | 
  • August 2012
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Night Swimmer includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. At the beginning of The Night Swimmer, Elly says that when she looks back at her time in Ireland she is ashamed. Why does Elly believe she is to blame for what happened? Do you think the blame should rest entirely on her? How do feelings of guilt and shame motivate the characters in The Night Swimmer?
2. Elly reflects on the early days of her marriage: “By the time we were married I would begin to miss Fred almost the instant he would leave my sight. . . . Fred had such passion for me, for everything. I fed on it and became addicted to it” (pp. 98–99). Discuss the nature of Fred and Elly’s relationship. Do you think it is healthy? Why do you think their relationship is so intense? What ultimately draws them to each other?
3. What were your initial reactions to Fred? Do you find him sympathetic? Likable? When describing him in graduate school, Elly portrays him as being quarrelsome and grandiose. Can you understand why Elly fell in love with him? Why or why not see more

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About the Author

Matt Bondurant
Photo Credit: Stacy Bondurant

Matt Bondurant

Matt Bondurant is the author of three novels, the most recent of which is The Night Swimmer. Lawless—previously published as The Wettest County in the World—was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s 50 Best Books of the Year. His first novel, The Third Translation, was an international bestseller, translated into fourteen languages worldwide. He currently teaches literature and writing in the Arts and Humanities graduate program at the University of Texas at Dallas.


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