I must start this review with an apology. Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller was published by Fig Tree on 26th January, in hardback and for kindle, but I was privileged to receive a review copy (complete with a photo inserted between its pages – quite perfect!) considerably earlier than that. But now, at long last, I’ve read it – and I’m so glad I have. Having loved Our Endless Numbered Days so much (you’ll find my review here, and a further interview feature here), this book was everything I wanted it to be – and considerably more.
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?
The first thing I liked about this book was its construction – the present day story punctuated by Ingrid’s letters, not sent but placed within the pages of books with links to their subject matter. And the letters tell a fascinating story of indifference and betrayal, of passion and wrongdoing – an ill-founded marriage in a constant state of disintegration, painful to watch. Ingrid was possibly the only character in this book I remotely warmed to, and I loved the clarity of her voice – it’s a real tribute to the writing that it’s possible to care about a cast of characters that I wouldn’t otherwise give the time of day to. And the strength of the writing was the other thing I loved – an immense depth of human detail, an eye for the little things, the layers of story coupled with the watery imagery that pervades the book as a whole.
Both stories, past and present, are totally absorbing, the unfolding of a mystery: while I’ll admit that some of the nuances and deeper meanings may have passed me by (my fault, not the author’s) there were parts of this book that I lingered over, even re-read, because they made such a strong impression. And Flora, Nan, Richard, even Gil himself – they might not be people I’d choose as my social circle, but I found it quite impossible to tear my gaze away from them. Lest you doubt it, I loved this book – very different from Our Endless Numbered Days other than in the quality of the writing, but every bit as compelling.
My thanks to the author and publisher for my advance reading paperback copy – and to the publishers and Netgalley for providing an e-copy to make the reading easier for me.
About Claire Fuller
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. Swimming Lessons is her second novel.