Book: Caroline’s Bikini

A lame saying that is often true: “Never judge a book by its cover”. I was browsing at my favourite book-joint Passa Porta in Brussels the other week and came across Caroline’s Bikini by Kirsty Gunn. It looked rather chick-litty and I was thus not immediately convinced, but knew Gunn to be a brilliant writer and Passa Porta has an excellent curator, so I left with Caroline’s Bikini.

If you want an inventive and new literary point of view on how to dwell on relationships, this is exactly the thing. In the beginning I was slightly disturbed by the many footnotes and references that I found to be a tad gimmicky. Then the story took off with some new turns and the footnotes became fewer. The book is so meta in so many ways that I am still not quite sure what it was really about. 

In short, the story is about a man (Evan) and a woman writer (Emily) who have known each other since childhood. Evan asks Emily to record his story (to write a novel about it) when he hopelessly falls in love with his landlady Caroline. The book is a record of the meetings between Evan and Emily, always taking place at various London pubs over copious amounts of gin and tonic.

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Caroline’s Bikini photographed in Lisbon Botanical Garden

Trailing very close to the narrative of a desperate love story between Evan and Caroline, the book is also an account of a creative writing process. Emily is a freelance copywriter and her obsession with recording Evan’s story causes her to forgo many much more lucrative writing gigs. Thus I the book is as much about literature in general as it is about people losing their minds over unrequited love. 

So Caroline’s Bikini is not really a novel about a relationship, but rather a rearrangement of a writing process, showing the exasperation of the author when nothing takes the story forward, and the many false starts in the process of constructing a novel. 

I enjoyed the read – despite being rather uneventful (which is the point) and dark in its subject matter, Caroline’s Bikini manages to be also really funny and witty. There you are. I read it during a weekend break in Lisbon, and the book proved to pair extremely well with sun, rosé and this excellent Portuguese cheese, pictured below: 

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