Publisher: Fig Tree (Penguin Books UK)
Publication Date: 26th January 2017
Swimming Lessons has a distinctive grace – the enchanting quality of such exquisite writing is nothing short of an emotional ambush. It’s so tragically beautiful, flawless, magnificent even, I’m confident that when the cover is closed all of the words must huddle together in the dark to comfort each other.
Twelve years have passed since Ingrid disappeared from the Beach outside the Coleman’s home. It was 1992 when she stepped out of the house one day to never return from her swim, leaving a husband, two daughters and distorted memories of their family life in her wake.
So much time has elapsed and yet Gil thinks he sees her, his Ingrid, looking up at him through a book shop window where he tries to desperately retrieve the volumes his daughter has hastily donated. Before he can overthink anything, other than clutching a letter from Ingrid and the book he is holding at the time, he chases her down the street. But when he finds she has vanished he takes a nasty tumble and a trip to the hospital to deliriously recover from his ordeal.
Ingrid’s letters consume him. These intimate, soul searching letters that she creatively slipped between the pages of Gil’s precious book collection to join the random jottings already scrawled in the margins by their original owners, and keep them hidden from her children. Gil could probably tell you more about the minds of a thousand anonymous readers defacing his copies of literature than he could about his wife. But so much changed with the strokes of Ingrid’s pen.
Leading up to what would be her final swim on the Dorset Beach outside their home Ingrid tried to keep her head above water and she writes about their passion, the regrets, the betrayal, and the unexpected defeat of her efforts as her life frayed further around the edges. It would be as though her words were carved on her heart rather than paper.
Gil’s children have grown and are oblivious to the twelve year old mystery that is unravelling. The younger daughter, Flora, continues to reach for the minutest optimism that all will be well, along with the memories of a delightful childhood, the trips to the beach, the misremembered moments they shared and can smile about. The eldest, and by far the more down to earth of the two, Nanette, recalls raising her unruly sister single-handed, taking on her mother’s role at the grand old age of fifteen and unselfishly sacrificing most of her life to the difficult circumstances imposed upon her.
Every raw and touching detail harvested from the Coleman’s turbulent lives is delicately mined with finesse, making Swimming Lessons quite possibly the most perfect book I have had the privilege of holding this year. Sometimes it’s not just about letting go but learning to, which is easier said than done on this occasion as I didn’t want to put this one down.
Rating: Sheer perfection/5
(Courtesy of Amazon UK)
The second novel from the author of Our Endless Numbered Days, which won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize and was a 2016 Richard and Judy Book Club Pick.
‘Gil Coleman looked down from the window and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below.’
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?
(Courtesy of Amazon UK)
Claire Fuller’s debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, was published by Tin House in 2015 and went on to win the Desmond Elliott prize in the UK and was a finalist in the ABA Indies Choice Award, an IndieNext pick, and chosen as a Goodreads Debut Spotlight.
P.S. Look out for my publication day post on 26th January 2017 where I will be running a little giveaway to celebrate this wonderful book!