Claire Fuller’s debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days was one of the best books I read in 2016. I fell in love with the beautiful prose and compelling story line, so when I saw that she was releasing a new book I was over the moon. I’m always a little nervous when I start the second novel of an author whose debut book I loved; what if was a one off? What if I hate this book? What if I haven’t actually found another author to add to my list of ‘Writers Whose Books I’d Walk Over Hot Coals to Read’? Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed and Claire Fuller has joined that list as I loved this book and couldn’t put it down (at this point I must apologise to my husband for ignoring him for 24 hours whilst I had my nose pressed against my Kindle, sorry!).
Swimming Lessons begins with Gil Coleman, an elderly writer, browsing a second hand book shop and spotting his wife, Ingrid, standing on the street outside. This is odd, as she went missing years earlier and is presumed to be dead. Chasing her through the streets he gets injured, earning himself a stay in hospital and causing his youngest daughter, Flora to return to Dorset to join her sister Nanette (Nan) in caring for him.
This book is beautifully written. Claire Fuller uses a wonderful dual narrative technique where we learn Ingrid and Gil’s story via letters that Ingrid has written to Gil and has hidden inside some of his hundreds of books littering their house, whilst the present day is shown to us through Flora’s eyes. Gil is incredibly flawed; a womaniser, philanderer and charmer but Flora idolises him, refusing to see anything but good in her dad. Her sister, Nan, was forced to become a mother to Flora when she was in her mid teens, breeding years of resentment for her wandering dad and at having to grow up before her time.
Despite Ingrid being never really ‘present’ in the novel she was by far my favourite character; interesting, with depth and incredibly complex. Hers and Gil’s tale was romantic, heartbreaking and horrifying and the uncomfortable intricacies of their marriage were not shied away from. Starting in the 1970’s when Ingrid was Gil’s student at University and continuing through to the time she went missing, Ingrid’s letters are unflinchingly honest and depict the life that she and Gil led at the converted Swimming Pavilion they lived in on the Dorset coast.
Early on Gil says that a book is about the reader, not the author and that a reader will fill in any gaps left by the writer.
“Writing does not exist unless there is someone to read it and each reader will take something different from a novel, from a chapter, from a line…What do you think happens in the unsaid things, everything you don’t write? The reader fills them with their own imaginations.”
This is certainly the case for this novel, I finished it with more questions that answers (did Gil read all the letters? What exactly happened to Ingrid?) but I wasn’t put off by this; Swimming Lessons isn’t a book that can be wrapped up in a bow with all of the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. I’d far rather read a book which made me think and left things open to interpretation especially when I was so emotionally invested in the characters, because I just didn’t want to let them go and i’ll be thinking about them for some time to come.
Thankyou to Tin House Books and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book, it was a pleasure to write an honest review. Swimming Lessons is released on 26th January and can be pre-ordered here.
Read: 14th – 15th January 2017
Rating: 5 Stars