Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
Published in 2017 by Fig Tree
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?
In 2015 I read and reviewed Our Endless Numbered Days, the debut novel by Claire Fuller. I enjoyed much about this book, but with some reservations, so was really keen to check out her latest book, Swimming Lessons.
Chalk-and-cheese sisters Nan and Flora return to their childhood home when father Gil takes a tumble. Younger sister Flora is shocked to find the home, a former swimming pavilion which was always cluttered and crazy, literally full to the brim with old paperbacks. The reader has a little bit of insight into this, as we know that Gil has been searching the novels for letters left by his wife Ingrid who disappeared 12 years before. And it is these letters that make up about half of the novel, as we read their contents and find out more about Ingrid – and also much, much more about Gil himself…
Sometimes when books flit back and forth in time I get frustrated and find myself leaning towards one section of the book over the other. But this wasn’t the case at all here. The present day sections complemented Ingrid’s letters perfectly, and I liked the way it enabled us to build up a much rounder picture of the dysfunctional family – and find out many secrets the two sisters are not party to. Finding out about the past definitely helped not only to fill in some of the gaps, but also to alter the reader’s perceptions of the events taking place, and of one character in particular.
In the present day, I enjoyed the relationships between the different characters and despite the seriousness of the letters, these sections were sometimes more light-hearted and worked as a good contrast to the heavier stuff – for example Flora’s little comments about Nan’s blossoming relationship with another woman, and a scene where two characters get “high” from an unlit joint.
I thought this was an excellent book and it has the right mix of elements for me – mystery, sadness, humour – and an interesting island location thrown in for good measure. Now I’m looking forward to Fuller’s third novel!