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)
25 thoughts on “Review: Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller @Fig_Tree_Books @PenguinUKBooks @ClaireFuller2”
What a touching review. This is another book I intend to read one of these days.
Thank you. It’s a beautiful novel, I recommend it.
I thought this was a brilliantly observed novel and one that makes you want to discuss the many issues it raises. I’m not surprised you had such a personal response to it, there really is that sense that the mother is surely going to appear, that she is in some way observing all that is going on. Thank you for such a thoughtful review.
Another great review! It’s already on my list from Claire’s review so even more reasons to get a copy, and soon! 😀
Thank you so much 🙂 I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It’s one of those books that really stays with you.
Thank you so much. It is such a brilliant novel, and I found it impossible to do it any kind of justice in my review so decided to focus on how it affected me.
I really enjoyed the book and I really enjoyed your review. You’ve captured the essence of the book and relived it through your own words and what it meant to you as ‘the reader’. It is now your book.
Thank you. I found it really hard to review this book as I loved it so much so I decided to go with how it made me feel. It does feel like it’s now my book – it really got me and feels like it’s a book that will really stay with me.
My problem was loving the author but detesting the characters. Living as I do in a “City of Literature” I have encountered many “Gils” & they are odious: sleazy, aduterous, dishonest & lazy. (I saw the authorship of his long-awaited prize-winning novel coming from afar.) Loved Fuller’s previous book & hope she regains her form.
I would agree that Gil wasn’t the nicest character but that didn’t stop my genuine enjoyment of the novel. I haven’t read Claire Fuller’s first novel as yet so I’m interested to see how it compares for me.
I loved Our Endless Numbered Days & that was why I was so disappointed with Swimming Lessons.
This does have a really interesting premise! And it sounds like a really deep depiction of a family and the dynamics of its members. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Thank you. I very much enjoyed it – it’s one of those books that I read at exactly the right time and it really affected me.
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Check out the book, Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller, from the Rather Too Fond of Books blog
Great review! I’ve heard great things about this book before and I will definitely be trying to get a copy soon now. 🙂
Thank you 🙂 It really is a beautiful read. I hope you can get a copy soon and that you enjoy it as much as I did.
I downloaded this book recently….and now I know I must move it up on the stack. Thanks for sharing.
I also love the idea that Ingrid could have been “just around the corner”. Great review! I think you’ll like her first book, as well!
Thank you so much. It just felt to me like Ingrid was always close by, in some form or another, and that’s why the book moved me so much. I’m really looking forward to reading her first book now, hopefully I can get to it soon.
Excellent review. I really liked Swimming Lessons, too, even though at times Ingrid frustrated me. I thought she was a little passive for my taste. Our Endless Numbered Days is amazing!
Thank you so much. I know what you mean about Ingrid but the writing just made me feel so emotional that that was the over-riding thing I took from the book. I’m really looking forward to reading Our Endless Numbered Days soon, I feel sure I’m going to love it.
Wow, this is a book that my first thought looking at the cover and title is soooo far off what the book seems to be about, as they say don’t judge a book by it’s cover. LOL
I know what you mean, although the cover drew me to the book because it’s so striking. 🙂
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