About this book
Susan Clegg has short stories published in Matter and The Stinging Fly. She was Highly Commended in the Writers & Artists Killer Fiction competition and was selected to pitch to a panel of agents and publishers at the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival. In 2020, her story, Dogwood, was shortlisted for the V. S. Pritchett Short Story prize, earning this review from Derek Owusu: ‘A story that turns the mundane into magic, sleight of hand sentences that the eyes can’t help but follow.’ The Dolphin is her debut novel and was long listed for the Mslexia prize.
If we’re lucky, our lifetime might last seven or eight decades – year after year of event and incident. But sometimes, out of all that time, one fleeting moment defines a whole life, the repercussions felt for generations.
This is the central theme of The Dolphin, the debut novel from Sheffield-based author Susan Clegg. The book follows three generations of the same family, beginning in the prelude to the Second World War as our tragic hero Larry Lambert struggles with his repressed sexuality and takes a mortifying trip out on a boat called The Dolphin.
The experience itself is over in a morning, but it shapes the rest of Larry’s life, then the life of his daughter Joanie, and her daughter Lottie.
Clegg’s characterisation is gripping, so real it’s uncomfortable. Larry’s buttoned-up wife Rosemary is a masterclass. We’ve all known a Rosemary – someone so caught up in the need to be respectable she has no idea how to be happy, no idea even that being happy might be an option available to her. This is a woman whose life is spent in fear of imaginary judgement, trying to be something that’s always out of reach.
What’s beautiful though is the compassion that runs through the book. Rosemary may be deeply unlikeable as she throws around her poison and inflicts trauma on the next generation, but we see the sadness of her life. Clegg resists the temptation to condemn her.
Despite most of the action of The Dolphin taking place inland, the sea is a constant presence. It’s something that elevates life above the mundane and ordinary, even more powerful as an idea than a reality, and providing an outlet for the longing that pervades the book.
Reading The Dolphin feels like eavesdropping on your neighbours – intimate, real and occasionally excruciating . But ultimately, this is a striking examination of why we make the choices, take the paths, and feel the passions we do – maybe it can all be traced back to one terrifying moment when life’s possibilities were ripped open and we glimpsed what it might be like to be happy.
– Anna Caig, https://murderundergroundbrokethecamel.wordpress.com/2023/07/11/the-dolphin/
The Dolphin tells the story of Larry, Joanie and Lottie, three generations of a family over a period of almost forty years, from 1937 to 1974. Turbulent and unsettled times. Each has to navigate conflict, duty and immense changes in the face of legal and personal passions and needs. And they do, with courage and fortitude and above all, imagination. Larry builds a pub to sail over grassy seas. Joanie, despite convention and harsh judgement, sticks to her ground and triumphs. Lottie learns to let go of fear and hesitation. All blossom, seeking upwards in their own personal spring.
This is a poignant, touching and powerful tale of hope and survival. And of beasts and beauties, and all that bubbles up from the deep.
– Linda Lee Welch
Told across key years in the lives of the same family over three generations, Susan Clegg’s The Dolphin is a book which catches you unaware, giving its secrets up carefully in a manner which reflects how closely they are guarded by those who keep them.
In 1937, Larry Lambert is conflicted – his life unsatisfactory. This is relayed in a number of ways which set the tone for the book. He builds houses which make him feel constrained, his wife Rosemary sleeps with her back to him while he remains awake and anxious, and his kids are constantly fighting. For some reason he can’t explain he believes a trip to the seaside will benefit all, but especially himself. That trip will go on to shape the family for decades to come, yet no one, at least initially, fully understands why. After this trip his dream is to build a pub he names ‘The Dolphin’. He chooses a location which is fairly remote, but from which you can see the sea. It’s a place which offers hope and home for some, and provokes fear and loathing in others.
What follows is a novel which weaves together its stories quite beautifully – subtly and slowly ramping up the emotional impact to the extent that I had tears in my eyes by the final few pages, something which caught me completely unaware. Over the book you become emotionally invested in the characters and their circumstances. The Dolphin also captures the social expectations and prejudices of each particular time and how they shape and constrain lives, and sometimes ruin them.
This is storytelling by stealth in that you are absolutely invested in the central characters’ stories, but you never feel you are being manipulated or coerced into feeling a certain way. Nothing is explicitly explained and you have to read not only between the lines, but also behind them. The Dolphin is an exemplary piece of writing where each story, and the reader, is handled with care but you only realise that once you have turned the final page. Once you do you immediately want to read it all over again.
– Alistair Braidwood, https://snackmag.co.uk/the-dolphin-by-susan-clegg-review
Really enjoyed it. A quiet, restrained style so suited to the period and a deceptively easy read. I admire the clarity of the writing and the great storytelling.
– Avril Joy, Costa Award winning author