I read Georgie Codd’s We Swim to the Shark in one large gulp, over the bank holiday weekend. This is the kind of nature-memoir-swim writing that I can’t put down. Georgie developed a fear of fish (ichthyophobia) as a younger person. She is not sure exactly when – maybe it was that classmate stung by a fish, maybe it was Jaws. Either way, Georgie now has a rampant fear of all fish, which obviously inhibits her ability to swim anywhere or enjoy herself near bodies of water. This book is the story of her working through that fear, by building up her resistance to fish. She is inspired by a friend who undertook CBT to overcome a fear of spiders. Rather than taking CBT, Georgie decides she will run an experiment: she must learn to swim with the biggest fish of all, the whale shark.
To do this, Georgie travels to Thailand to learn scuba diving, cave dives in Mexico, snorkels in Scotland, and ventures to Mafia Island in the Indian Ocean. With every swim, every moment in the ocean, she becomes better at tolerating fish. But the big fish eludes her:
“I imagine the intensity of the moment. Of witnessing that there is something far, far greater than yourself. Greater than your daily routine. Greater than any job. The sensation of confronting your own insignificance, and of finding it overwhelming. Of being held in place by the currents, then swept to one side by a tail the size of a steeple. Of emerging back into the air above, a survivor”.
Interspersed with writing about her journeys, is the story of Georgie’s life and family. It is a story of wanting adventure beyond the 9-5 commute. It is a story of family and relationships, and the way we are cast asunder when they end. It is a story of courage instead of fear. Beyond the personal narrative there is a lot of research about whale sharks and the ocean, stories of the unknown because there is so much that we don’t know about whale sharks, or about the ocean – the fact that no one is sure where juvenile female whale sharks go, or the undiscovered deep-sea trenches, for example.
This is the kind of nature-memoir-swim writing that I can’t put down.
Georgie interweaves these facts in amongst her personal journey, and her encounters with various experts who help her see the ocean differently. This is smart nature-narrative writing, and hugely enjoyable to read.
Central to the book is the concept of loneliness, being alone in the midst of others, or experiencing something while alone, and realising one’s own mortality and singleness within the world, and perhaps the wider universe. It seems fitting for our current experiences, as we find ourselves experiencing social distancing and perhaps isolation, to read a book that explores venturing into the unknown in order to overcome fear, and to emerge again at the end, not alone, but with a whole new community. As Georgie writes,
“I realise that, all through this journey, when I’ve needed to get in the water with something, I’ve done it because I’ve been able to take my cues from other people…”
Read this book. And then plan your next swimming adventure with all those people you’ve been missing during lockdown.