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Claire Fuller's slightly mystical, beautifully written first novel was Our Endless Numbered Days which I highly recommended on my Audible review page on 27/7/2015. Her second novel Swimming Lessons fulfils all the promise of her first - I loved it.
The structure is carefully contrived but is seamless to read or listen to as we're taken backwards and forwards in time. Ingrid is a university student who falls for her slightly predatory far older tutor Gil Coleman and when she finds she's pregnant, they marry. Ingrid is not allowed to take her Finals and Gil loses his job and becomes a full time writer, although in fact he spends more time philandering and very little writing anything beyond one successful (and ultimately destructive) book. Ingrid struggles with children and miscarriages, the pain of which is exquisitely described. She has always been happiest in the water, and one day she leaves her clothes on the beach and disappears.
The other layer of the story is Gil as a broken old man, irascible and selfish in his house stacked with thousands of books, with his two very different grown-up daughters Flora and Nan around him. Their memories of their missing mother and their present day lives haunted by her disappearance form a strand of the narrative, but the core is made up of the letters which Ingrid wrote to Gil as her passionate marriage fell apart and which she doesn't give to him, but slips inside random books on his overflowing shelves.
Like her previous novel, there is a light touch of fairy tale which transports the listener, but at the same time it's firmly rooted in real life and the idiosyncrasies, complexities, pain and pleasures of relationships. The rhythm of the story is like the sea which is so important to the whole story, ebbing, flowing, constantly moving. The themes of betrayal, regret, guilt, loss, absence, isolation are all worked through with a gentle delicacy, the language always imaginative and fresh. There are some mysteries which are never solved, and some solutions are dispersed through the story like beads on a necklace. The narrator Rachel Atkins does a great job and adds another dimension to the novel - the dialogue is particularly skilfully presented.
Don't miss this one, and look out for Claire Fuller's third one!
26 of 30 people found this review helpful
4.5 stars. To call this book a mystery (or literary mystery) does not do it justice. At a basic level, this is the story of a wife and mother (Ingrid) who went missing in 1992, how her fraught marriage led to the disappearance, and the aftermath for her family. But it is so much more. The novel tells the tale from two perspectives: in modern times, you see Ingrid's husband and daughters and how they have dealt with never having closure about whether she left or died; in 1992, a set of letters written by Ingrid to her husband, outlining their meeting, courtship, and marriage. Ingrid's letters are the star of this book and make it special - she never sends her husband (Gil, a successful but eventually stilted author) the letters, but rather places them within the books of his voluminous collection, matching the letters to titles that are evocative of each letter's revelations. These pairings are clever and poignant. The letters move forward in time, inching ever-closer to her disappearance. In modern times, both daughters are recalled home to their father, who is ailing and injured, having thought he saw his long-missing wife in the street and fallen while pursuing this woman (apparition or reality, we are left guessing until the end). The letters are a meditation on youth and romance, passion and betrayal. Ingrid feels counterfeit and thwarted in her life as a mother, and her letters give voice to feeling at odds with the life you've ended up with. While the modern chapters are less enthralling then the letters speaking from the past, there are still moments of beauty and despair. And you can't really fault the husband and children for not feeling as immediate and real and captivating as Ingrid, whose letters from the past have real and drastic ramifications on the present. The epilogue is a nice touch. Recommended.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Strange book! The story kept me interested, but what a strange and sad story! The ending left me with unanswered questions...
1 of 1 people found this review helpful