What’s it all about?:
Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he has collected over the years. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach, leaving behind her beautiful but dilapidated house by the sea, her husband, and her two daughters, Flora and Nan.
Twelve years later, Gil thinks he sees Ingrid from a bookshop window, but he’s getting older and this unlikely sighting is chalked up to senility. Flora, who has never believed her mother drowned, returns home to care for her father and to try to finally discover what happened to Ingrid. But what Flora doesn’t realize is that the answers to her questions are hidden in the books that surround her. Scandalous and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious truths of a passionate and troubled marriage.
What did I think?:
I fell in love with Claire Fuller’s writing after I read her amazing debut novel Our Endless Numbered Days in the summertime of last year. If you haven’t read it, please you absolutely must – it’s a brilliant, shocking read which I highly recommend. I knew Claire was working on her second book, Swimming Lessons but when she kindly contacted me and asked if I’d like to read it, I literally jumped at the chance. I’m so glad I did. It’s slow paced at the beginning but by the time I was a third of the way through I was completely hooked and it was difficult to pry the book away from me!
We see the drama unfold from multiple different perspectives. Firstly from Gil who swears that he sees his wife Ingrid standing outside a bookshop window. The strange thing is, Ingrid disappeared many years previously and is thought to have drowned in a tragic accident. Gil follows the woman he thinks to be Ingrid and ends up falling and ending up in hospital. This is where we meet his two daughters, Nan and the younger sister Flora who are completely different personalities but come together to help their father as they receive some heart-breaking news. We then get some insights into the past of this fascinating family from Flora’s memories of her childhood, her parents and from Ingrid herself.
This was the part that I just adored as Gil begins to find old letters addressed to him from Ingrid hidden in his precious books. They start from the very beginning of their relationship (which was frowned upon from some individuals due to the age difference between them) to their married life, berating him for certain behaviours and admitting other secrets. Basically, telling their whole story, warts and all, from her point of view. It’s the story of a dysfunctional relationship that also holds a lot of love which beggars belief at some points and intrigues you at other times. Do we ever really find out what has happened to Ingrid? Maybe…maybe not, but we certainly understand her and Gil a lot better through the process.
Like Claire’s debut novel, this story took me completely by surprise with how attached I became to the characters and their story. I never really felt like I understood Gil and his reasons for doing what he did but I certainly sympathised with Ingrid and the situation she found herself in and even understood her reasons for being attracted to Gil in the first place. I probably actually preferred Gil in the “present day” situation, being looked after by his daughters and perhaps feeling guilt and remorse for events that occurred in the past. On finishing it, I immediately wanted to go back to the beginning and perhaps pick up on things I may have missed in the narrative, not having the full information I had at the end and it’s definitely a novel I will look forward to re-reading in the future. Claire Fuller can do no wrong in my eyes as an author and with Swimming Lessons, she has certainly cemented herself in my heart as one of my favourites.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):