Title: Swimming Lessons
Author: Claire Fuller
My rating: ★★★★★
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 realise 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.
This review is going to take a different form to my usual book reviews, for two reasons:
- I received Swimming Lessons as an ARC after being contacted by the lovely Claire Fuller herself, and
- I want as many people to read this book as possible.
To sum up: no spoilers.
By opening the first page of this book, you are immediately thrown into the action of the story. I don’t mean you storm in, as the reader, with guns blazing and explosions going off left, right and centre, but watching as a main character spies his long dead wife outside the window and chases her off the end of the pier is a pretty bizarre yet successful way to grab hold of the reader’s intrigue.
As the story continues, we learn more about the characters in turn, and their pasts through the aforementioned dead wife Ingrid’s diary-esque letters to her husband — letters she never really expected him to read, and which detail all manner of sad truths and shocking secrets. I loved how the characters of Ingrid and Flora especially were created. One moment you feel sympathy, then anger and betrayal, followed by swift heartbreak; and you feel things for certain characters that you never expected.
I’ve read (and reviewed) Fuller’s debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, so I’m familiar with the dreamy, vivid writing style that she has mastered so well. However, rather than encumbering the fairy-tale qualities of OEND, Swimming Lessons is instead harsher, less controversial or outwardly shocking, perhaps, but raw and sad in a way much closer to real life.
The plot is not the most “action-packed” but with its exploration of human relationships, emotions and continuously pedalling prose rooted in the most beautiful of settings, it doesn’t need to be to keep you reading; in fact, it almost doesn’t let you stop, and I didn’t want to put it down anyway! Long story short: I absolutely loved it.
Thank you again to Claire Fuller for gifting me with this wonderful book! Swimming Lessons is available to buy now in the U.K. (see links below) and will be published for release in the U.S. and Canada in February this year.