About the Book:
‘Gil Coleman looked down from the window and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below.’
Gil’s wife, Ingrid has been missing, presumed drowned, for twelve years.
A possible sighting brings their children, Nan and Flora, home. Together they begin to confront the mystery of their mother. Is Ingrid dead? Or did she leave? And do the letters hidden within Gil’s books hold the answer to the truth behind his marriage, a truth hidden from everyone including his own children?
This is the first novel I’ve read by Claire Fuller and I very much enjoyed it. Swimming Lessons is a real character-driven novel told partly in letters from the past and partly in the present day. I loved the way that a picture was gradually built up of this family, the way all their brokenness, their quirks and emotions were shown in one light in the present day and then there was another layer when we read a letter from the past.
In the present Gil has had a fall and is in hospital so his daughters Nan and Flora rush back to their childhood home to look after their father. We see the house through their eyes – all the piles and piles of books crowding every inch of space and immediately I wanted to know more.
We then begin to read the letters from Ingrid – mother to the two girls, who disappeared one day years earlier and of whom no trace has ever been found. We see through her eyes the happy times, the heartbreaking times that she went through with Gil. We learn from the very first letter that she wrote to him many times and then hid the letters in a book she felt was appropriate in some way. We don’t know how many Gil ever found or read, and there’s an added melancholy feel that runs through the book caused by missed chances and lack of knowing. In the present day we see the daughters occasionally pick up a book, and we, the reader, know there is a letter from their mother to their father in there, but for whatever reason they don’t find it. This left me feeling almost bereft at times.
There is a sense that Ingrid must be dead, for there have never been any sightings of her since the day she disappeared. Yet, there is also a haunting sense that she’s just around the corner, that if you just turned around quicker she’d be there. This broke my heart at times when the two daughters could sense her. My mum died a few years ago and sometimes I can randomly smell her perfume in my house, and for a moment I go still and it feels like she’s right there. It’s comforting, even though I know it’s not real. I think this sums up so much of this novel – the idea of people feeling things or sensing things but not always knowing what it means or how to deal with it. Then sometimes it’s the opposite – Gil’s lack of awareness, or lack of care, of his wife led to the emotional loss of her from their marriage before she was fully lost from all of their lives.
The ending of this book is perfect in my opinion, I honestly can’t see how it could have ended differently. The whole story is like a family haunted by memories and secrets and things they don’t know, so to wrap it all up in a neat bow would have been too heavy-handed. The beautiful wistfulness of the writing combined with the heartbreaking storyline is just incredible and I fell in love with this novel – it’s one that will stay with me for a long time to come.
I have Claire Fuller’s debut novel on my TBR and will definitely be reading it soon, and I already can’t wait to see what she writes next.
Swimming Lessons is out now.
I received a copy of this book from Fig Tree / Penguin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author:
Claire Fuller trained as a sculptor before working in marketing for many years. In 2013 she completed an MA in Creative Writing, and wrote her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. It was published in the UK by Penguin, in the US by Tin House, in Canada by House of Anansi and bought for translation in 15 other countries. Our Endless Numbered Days won the 2015 Desmond Elliott prize.
Claire’s second novel, Swimming Lessons will be published in early 2017.
(Bio taken from author’s Goodreads profile: Goodreads: Claire Fuller)