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The Crack Magazine

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The Swimmer (The Wild Life of Roger Deakin) by Patrick Barkham

I loved this biography of Richard Deakin which is surprising as it ticked a lot of the boxes that ‘trigger’ irritation, annoyance and a perfectly natural inclination to chuck said biography across the room. Went to Oxbridge? Tick. Likes wild swimming? Tick. Selfishness often masquerading as eccentricity? Tick. White privilege? Tick. Although Patrick Barkham refreshingly stamps on this ticked box right from the off, “He was amongst the last of an age…when an adult with a certain level of education and a socially acceptable skin colour seemed free to turn their hand to almost anything”. Copywriter, teacher, music promoter, filmmaker, environmentalist nothing seemed beyond him, and he topped it all off by writing one of the all-time great nature books, Waterlog, the so-called bible of ‘wild swimming’. Where The Swimmer triumphs is in its use of Roger Deakin’s huge tranche of notebooks, letters and diaries, which stand alongside ‘oral biography’ quotes from friends, family and lovers. It’s for the reader to figure out why there’s occasionally gaps between the two, as it’s in those gaps that the real Roger Deakin emerges, or as near to the real Roger Deakin as you’re going to get. Marshalled superbly by Patrick Barkham this is biographical writing at its very best.

The Swimmer (The Wild Life of Roger Deakin) – Patrick Barkham publ. Hamish Hamilton- £20.00

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