In this moving novel by Edna O’Brien, the characters do not have names; the author merely uses the powerful pronouns of “she” and “he” for effect. This is a tragic story of love, desire, and loss.
Upon the invitation of "he," she joins him on an island, even though she does not prefer anything about the ocean. For her, the “sea is dark as the shells of mussels, and signifies catastrophe,” and interestingly, her time with him and the water is tragic.
Although they are very intimate physically, that is not enough to sustain their relationship, as he is distant, judgmental, and indifferent when around other people.
In bed she felt safe again, united to him not only by passion and by pleasure but by some more radical entanglement.
Her time on the island seems to be a test of some kind, especially in regard to his wealthy social group, and she is insecure.
How long would she last? It would be uppermost in all their minds.
As she consistently seeks to win his love and approval of his friends, she attempts to please him by learning to swim. The deep end of the pool, or water, is symbolic of the depth of their relationship.
She knew that if he chose her that they would not go in the deep end, the deep end that she dreaded and dreamed of. When it came to matters inside of himself he took no risks.
As she realizes nothing she does will really earn his deep love for her, she is overwhelmed with sadness.
After she attempts to drown herself in the pool and he rescues her, she realizes their torrid affair is over. He does not truly accept her for who she is, and she knows “when they got back to London there would be separate cars waiting for them at the airport.”