Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Book Review: SWIMMING LESSONS by Claire Fuller

Swimming Lessons

 Swimming Lessons
Author: Claire Fuller
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
Read: November 2016
Expected publication: 26 January 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband Gil about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides each 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 after her disappearance, 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. Sexy and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious and complicated truths of a passionate and troubled marriage.

My thoughts:

There is so much to love about this book, it is hard to know where to start!

Swimming Lessons is told in a dual time frame, the present time told in third person mainly through the eyes of the youngest daughter, Flora, whilst the past is being explored by a series of letters Ingrid wrote to her absent and cheating husband Gil before her disappearance. The author is one of the few writers who are able to make this style work, artfully weaving Ingrid’s recollections and musings into the storyline without sacrificing either the flow of the novel or its cohesiveness. I absolutely loved Ingrid’s voice, which tells the sad tale of the steady erosion of innocence by the damaging dynamics of a dysfunctional relationship. In her first letter, she remembers her 20-year old self, all smiles, twirling skirts and innocence, on the day she first lays eyes on Gil, a charismatic university professor twice her age with a reputation of drinking and womanising. Inevitably drawn to his dangerous handsomeness, like a moth to the flame, Ingrid chooses a path that will totally consume her, change her life and ultimately destroy her.

In the present, we get to know Flora, a free-spirited girl in her early twenties, who is summoned back to her childhood home after her father has suffered an accident. Again, the author comes into her own, exploring the complex dynamics of the Coleman family – Flora, her older sister Nanette and her dying father Gil, all thrown together one last time in the dilapidated “Swimming Pavilion”. By weaving Flora’s reality together with Ingrid’s recollections of the past, we are able to glimpse the different realities of each individual family member. Whilst Nanette , as the older, sensible girl, has a good grasp of her father’s shortcomings as head of family and husband, Flora has been sheltered from the harsh realities of this dysfunctional family, and still adores her ageing father as the champion of her childhood.  
“Oh Flora, there are so many things you conveniently remember wrong. Sometimes I wonder if you were living in the same house as Mum and me.”
And whilst Nanette has long given up her mother for dead, Flora still has hope that one day she will walk through the doors of the Swimming Pavilion as if nothing has ever happened.

The setting is stunning and befitting this unusual family, and the author’s lyrical writing evokes the wild and untamed coastline perfectly. I had vivid mental images of the rock “Old Smoker” and loved Ingrid’s descriptions of swimming there, her one escape from her unhappy life. 

“Under the surface, the water boiled as if storm clouds were massing and dispersing at great speed, and I spiralled through them, a leaf in a whirlwind.” 

Swimming features strongly in both Ingrid’s and Flora’s lives, as an escape from reality, a healing force, a way to get back to basics and beginnings.

All in all, Swimming Lessons is a beautifully drawn story about relationships, family and the sacrifices we make for love. The author’s exquisitely drawn characters and setting captured me from the very first page, and I could not tear myself away. Highly recommended!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Image result for 4.5 stars

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