'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?
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller is published in hardback and ebook on 26 January 2017 by Fig Tree (Penguin), and is the author's second book. I read and reviewed her first, Our Endless Numbered Days here on Random Things in January 2015.
I was so impressed by Claire Fuller's debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. I read it pre-publication and I was delighted when it went on to be such a huge success, and won the Desmond Elliott Book Prize 2015.
It's not only the author that has the 'dreaded second novel' fear, readers get it too. We wait in anticipation for the next release, but have that inner fear too. What if it's not as good as novel one? What if I've waited this long and I hate it? What it?
Well, phew! I can breath, I can shout with excitement and happiness because Swimming Lessons is an outstanding second novel. I loved it, every single page of it. I loved it more than I loved Our Endless Numbered Days, it really is a stunning story.
Swimming Lessons is a story of family relationships, of long-covered secrets and the gradual emergence of the truth. It is a story that is both compulsive and raw. The reader is taken on a journey that is often painful, yet so masterfully imagined and told.
Gil Coleman, a successful author in his day. Now an old man who lives surrounded by hundreds of old books that he has collected for many years. The books were not bought because of the words inside them, but because of the additions made to them by their readers. A note in a margin, a scribbled drawing, a bookmark or photograph left amongst the pages, and in some .... a letter.
Gil's wife Ingrid, the mother of his two daughters, Nan and Flora disappeared without trace twelve years ago. When Flora receives a frantic phone call from older sister Nan, she learns that Gil has had an accident. He fell and injured himself, he says that he saw Ingrid, and had chased after her. Flora returns to the family home and at last, the mystery of Ingrid's whereabouts and the details of her marriage to Gil may be revealed.
As the family are coming to grips with their discoveries, and facing up to the future, the reader also learns about Ingrid, in her own words. Told through letters written to Gil, but never sent and spanning back to the very first day that they met and finishing on the day that she disappeared, these letters are a brutal, honest and raw account of the other side of the marriage. Ingrid wrote down her every thought and these letters were placed inside books that belong to Gil, alongside the other random items hidden away by various owners. Very cleverly, Claire Fuller includes at the bottom of each letter, the title of the book that it is hidden in. Each title has a bearing on the contents of the letter, and this is a simple, but beautiful addition to the novel.
The author expertly explores the mechanisms of the unsual marriage of Gil and Ingrid. Both characters are flawed, and these flaws have a long reaching impact on both Nan and Flora. Flora's slow realisations and Nan's burdens of responsibility are tender and raw, like exposed nerves that shape their characters, and the plot.
Swimming Lessons is a bewitching and original story, full of characters who are so real that you genuinely feel as though you really do know them. It hypnotises and seduces. Savour this one slowly, it really is a stunning story.
My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.
Claire Fuller was born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1967. She gained a degree in sculpture from Winchester School of Art, but went on to have a long career in marketing and didn't start writing until she was forty.
Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the Desmond Elliott Prize.
She has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester and lives in Hampshire with her husband and two children.
For more information, visit her website www.clairefuller.co.uk
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @ClaireFuller2