Sunday, January 29, 2017

Swimming Lessons

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
Tin House Books: 2/7/17
eBook review copy; 356 pages
ISBN-13: 9781941040515

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller is a very highly recommended family drama/mystery. "Gil Coleman looked down from the first-floor window of the bookshop and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below." Gil Coleman saw his dead wife, Ingrid, twelve years after she disappeared and followed her outside into the rain where he ended up falling and is hospitalized. It is discovered that Gil is dying from cancer. Daughters Nan and Flora meet at the family home. Gil's sighting of Ingrid is not believed by sensible Nan, who writes it off to senility, but Flora believes her mother is still alive.

Ingrid Coleman disappeared in 1992, leaving behind her older husband and two daughters. It was believed that she drowned since it was well known that she loved her daily swims in the sea, but her body was never found. Gil and Ingrid met in 1976 when she was a university student in his literature class. An affair starts, Ingrid discovers she is pregnant, and the two marry. Gil is dismissed from the university and the two settle in his family home in Dorset where Gil also has a writing cottage. But Gil is a womanizing philanderer and not even remotely faithful.

The rooms and halls of the family home are lined with thousands of books that Gil has collected over the years. It was the same way when Ingrid first moved in the house. As Ingrid learns more and more about Gil's character, she turns to writing letters. Her letters tell the brutally honest story of their marriage. After she finishes a letter, she tucks it into one of Gil's books where it awaits discovery. Each letter concludes with the name of the book in which that letter was hidden.

Swimming Lessons is told through two timelines. The present day shows Flora's perspective and the decline of Gil. The past is recounted through Ingrid's detailed letters, telling the story of their marriage. Through Ingrid's letters, the past is exposed and more and more secrets and betrayals are revealed in their troubled marriage.

This is an incredible, well-written book. I was engrossed and invested in the story from beginning to end. The writing is phenomenal. I loved the epistolary parts of the novel that tell the story of the early years through Ingrid point of view. I loved the juxtaposition of the present and the past. There are surprising revelations toward the end and an epilogue that adds depth. The characters are well developed and fully realized. The intricate story reaches a satisfactory conclusion that made me want to read Claire Fuller's first book asap.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company and Tin House Books

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