Warning: Anyone planning to read this book to improve their swimming skills, please beware! This book does not provide any information regarding any swimming techniques or floating or diving. Also, in case anyone is unaware about this, swimming cannot be taught through books.
Coincidentally, I learned to back float before I started reading this book. 🙂
Swimming Lessons is the second book of Claire Fuller; yet her grasp over the language, depth of her characters, the unique plot line and style of presentation are exceptional and reminds us of a veteran novelist!
“Writing does not exist unless there is someone to read it, and each reader will take something different from a novel, from a chapter, from a line. A book becomes a living thing only when it interacts with a reader”.
In the above lines from her book, Fuller states the importance of readers in the ultimate fruition of any book. This quote has been magnificently put to practice in this novel! No reader of Swimming Lessons can remain aloof with its characters that are well thought through with different shades of personality and their own individuality. The readers themselves are drawn into the centre of the ever- thickening mystery around which the novel revolves. The author leaves us with just enough to interpret the lines and to ponder over them to shed some light into the ambiguity that is central to the plot.
Swimming Lessons portray the story of a family still coming to terms with a twelve year old disappearance. The main characters of the story are Ingrid Coleman, wife of the successful writer Gil Coleman and their kids Flora and Nan. The stories are narrated in alternate timelines with dual points of view. The present timeline is narrated through the point of view of Flora and the past is slowly revealed by Ingrid through a series of elaborate letters to her husband that she hides in the books around their home. These letters reveal the murky details of an unhappy marriage filled with infidelities beneath a loving front. After writing the last letter Ingrid disappears from their lives in a drowning accident though her body was never recovered. The disappearance of Ingrid affects each member of the family differently. Gil, though ignoring the existence of his wife during their marriage, starts relentlessly searching for her for the rest of his life. In her absence she becomes more present to him. Nan, the practical elder daughter, well aware of her father’s infidelities, lets the memories of her mother go. Flora, the younger daughter, refuses to accept her mother’s death and blames herself for Ingrid’s disappearance. Is Ingrid really dead? Will she come back to the house which was her home once?
Although the story starts with a whirlwind romance and a hasty wedding, it portrays the raw realities of a loveless marriage. Ingrid, a youthful, promising and ambitious student decides to have an affair with her professor and soon finds herself living in a remote village married to him, without a degree and with a bawling baby in her arms. All rosy promises of new love are shattered when she finds out about her husband’s debauchery and infidelity. Ingrid Coleman represents thousands of women who are trapped in their marriages unable to break free due to various reasons. Even though Ingrid contemplates multiple times to leave Gil, she is frightened at the lack of possibilities for a single mother without a degree.
The entire relationship revolves around Gil and his writing career. Gil’s strong desire to father kids forces Ingrid to conceive even though she does not long to be a mother. Yet, Gil disappears on the pretext of his writing career thereby shirking all responsibilities in raising a child. This raises questions about the roles and responsibilities fathers have in the upbringing of their children. An ambitious women herself, Ingrid is not given a chance to prove herself due to an overload of domestic commitments. In the novel, Flora makes the following statement which speaks volumes about parenthood.
‘Fathers leave their kids all the time and there’s barely a shrug, or maybe someone’s a bit disappointed. Why should it be so shocking when a mother does it?’ … ‘Because mothers are meant to love their children more than fathers? Because it’s supposed to come naturally?’
Another interesting aspect of the novel is the books in which the letters written by Ingrid has been placed. The names of the books selected bear similarities to the essence of the letter. This has opened up a number of books to Google up and add to my TBR list.
Overall, Swimming Lessons is an honest look at a lifeless marriage. Even though the story is set in the past, the plight of the protagonist is an ever present one to which many women are victims even today. It genuinely portrays all the struggles that happen behind closed doors in marriages. But as the author has stated, everybody can interpret this book in their own way and can take something different from it. Although the book makes you feel dejected, hopeless and forlorn, it is hard to break free from the spell of the author’s words. You keep on turning the pages as if in a trance to know the fate of the protagonist. If you are a die-hard romantic who believes in happy endings and soul-mates, then this is not the book for you. If you are a realist who believes that there are tonnes of sacrifices behind every happy smile, then this is the book for you. For the others, this book is worth a read to feel the magic of good writing and language.
Favourite Character : Johnathan.
The magnanimous best friend of Gil, who also had a special bond with Ingrid and understood their marriage better than them is an unforgettable character.
Link to author’s profile : Claire Fuller
I received this book from Penguin Books (UK) through NetGalley for review and this has not influenced my opinion about the book.