A melancholy story of a broken family told in fantastic prose. 3/5 stars.
Thank you to Penguin and NetGalley for giving me a copy of the book.
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.
Firstly, and because cover designers often don’t get enough credit for their work, I’d like to say that whoever designed the book cover deserves heaps of praise. It’s beautiful.
Back to the contents…
As with Our Endless Numbered Days, Swimming Lessons showcases Claire Fuller’s wonderful descriptive prose. Every landscape, location (the Swimming Pavillion is a brilliant idea for a setting) and mood is captured evocatively, pulling the reader into and along with the story.
And, as with her first novel, she again shows skill in handling multiple timelines. This time she juggles three at once, all interweaving to build a complete picture of the dysfunctional family at the centre of her story.
Unfortunately, although this book is undeniably well-written, I just couldn’t get into it. I lay the blame squarely with the characters who were an unloveable bunch. Gil, in particular, needed a good kick up the backside. I kept hoping we’d learn something about him which would redeem him, even slightly. Instead, with each new detail I had more reason to loathe him. Ingrid was perhaps the most sympathetic character, but I felt she needed a thorough shaking for putting up with Gil’s crap. The rest of the characters were disappointingly bland and too weak to rescue the story from the shadow of their unlikeable and passive parents and friends.
Overall: if unlikeable characters aren’t a problem for you, I’d recommend Swimming Lessons. The writing is terrific and the various plot strands are well-handled, I just couldn’t get past the lack of anyone to like.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul