Review | Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

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.

The blurb: 

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.

My take:

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




23 thoughts on “Review | Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

  1. Ah, but the blurb sounds soooo good! Pity with the inability to disconnect wth the characters… one character that is hard to like is OK, but if they’re all meh, then… I agree on the cover though- it is very pretty!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! I’ve read about the unlikeable characters on a few blogs, however, so I’m not surprised to see it here. For me, I am content as long as there is character development.
    It sounds like Fuller’s prose should be experienced, though. Your review ratings for Fuller’s books are both about the same. Which would you recommend?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I had same feel when I read Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit From The Goon Squad’ – brilliantly done but populated with characters I couldn’t stand by the end!! Will read this because I loved Endless Numbered Days ( though didn’t like the Dad in that either!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Endless Numbered Days has the edge for me. I liked the character development (even if the development in the Dad’s case was him descending into madness), whereas in Swimming Lessons we don’t get much development which is a shame.
      It’s definitely worth reading, just for the lovely writing 🙂


  4. Hm, I’ve come to like a few books with unlikable characters. Most often, I end up loving a book with the most despicable characters ever but I suppose that’s just me and my morbid tastes. Hahaha. I can’t believe I want to read this one because you didn’t like some of the characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I just finished Swimming Lessons last night and couldn’t agree with you more. I struggled to get through the first half because I had no connection to the characters. I thought it got a little better in the second half, but nowhere close to Our Endless Numbered Days!

    Liked by 1 person

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