Book Review: Swimming Lessons

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Thank you to W.W. Norton and Edelweiss+ for granting access to Swimming Lessons. It was very enticing to see an early copy of Swimming Lessons, and quite exciting that approval was given for the e-book, because of Claire Fuller’s debut, Our Endless Numbered Days, which generated so much attention, and won literary prizes. And no, after all of that, guilty-as-charged…I still have not read it yet. :-( I know! I know! It is so well loved and I will remedy this absence from my reading soon. 

So, Swimming Lessons….I will say this was one where I needed time to process my thoughts before considering my final rating of it. And now, long after I’ve finished it, I’m still thinking about it. I’m still thinking about Ingrid! Yet, at first, and for much of the time I was very confused by this story, and grew increasingly frustrated by it. I wasn’t sure what was going on? Was this going to be something with unreliable characters? Was there going to be a twist in here at some point? Did I want this book to have those characteristics in it? Honestly, for over 1/4 of the book I sat in a state of confusion, a real fog. It was headed down the path into territory where I was sure I would end up not enjoying it. But then…I don’t know where? maybe half-way through, it started to shift, and shift quite considerably. Swimming Lessons is like a slow-burn. I think that is the best way to describe it.  Slowly the pieces begin fall into place and the meaning of it all bubbles to the surface as to what is happening/has happened.

At the start of Swimming Lessons, Gil is peering out a bookstore window and imagines he sees his long-disappeared wife, Ingrid on the sidewalk below. Even though she has been missing from their lives for well over a decade, believed drowned, he immediately rushes out the doors to follow her but ends up falling over a bridge. Gil’s eldest daughter Nan, who has long cared for him, phones her sister Flora to come home and help care for their father. This part of the story told in the present time is from Flora’s point-of-view. Their family story has always been that Ingrid Coleman drowned, but Flora never fully believed this and is caught up in the thinking that her father truly did see their mother and now she’ll learn what really happened to her.

The story then switches to Ingrid’s perspective, told in the past, written completely through her letters, which she has left hidden in books throughout their dilapidated house by the sea. The letters are meant to tell the truth of their relationship and their marriage and they begin from the very moment Ingrid meets Gil. It shifts in perspective each chapter to be told by Flora and how the disappearance of their mother has impacted her and her family’s lives.

Now, my confusion was because so often in Ingrid’s letters, she is writing about Gil not being there for her or the girls, and the girls are always waiting for his return. I was puzzled because it wasn’t lining up for me since she was the one not there for the girls. It was Gil raising them alone, from the time when Flora was a young girl. It stayed on this course of confusion for almost half of the book. Then….well then…the pieces slowly click into place, realization dawned on me and then I couldn’t stop reading to find out exactly what had happened – where had Ingrid gone? Was she really drowned off of Dorset beach like her family has long suspected? Realization emerged on as to what kind of person/husband Gil was and I savoured reading about their relationship in Ingrid’s letters, which, by the way, are very cleverly hidden in titles that coincide cheekily with the contents of her letters. You start to pick up on this after a couple of times where the title of the book where Ingrid has stashed it is revealed. It starts to provide quite a chuckle!

 So, overall, it’s a slow burn I tell ya! After finishing I found I could not stop thinking about this story. I couldn’t stop thinking about Ingrid and Gil and how clever this whole story was! So it definitely has me wanting to hurry and get to (the vastly different story in) Our Endless Numbered Days! Thanks again Edelweiss+ and W.W. Norton for the advanced copy, because now that it is out there in the world, and I see so many people ordering it, picking it up, I can only sit here and smile. A slow, sneaky smile because I am so very interested in hearing how others perceived Swimming Lessons and if they felt the burn.