Book Review – Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller


Pages: 
295
Published: 7th February 2017
Started reading: January 13
Finished reading: January 18

Synopsis

Twelve years ago Flora’s mother Ingrid disappeared, vanishing from a beach. Everyone – especially Flora’s sister and father Gil – believes Ingrid is long dead. Everyone, that is, except Flora. So when she hears that her father has had an accident, and is insisting that he saw his wife, Flora rushes home.

But the answers Flora seeks are nowhere to be found – only further questions:

What are the mysterious letters Gil keeps referring to? Why is the house filled with towering piles of books? And who was it her father actually saw?

As Flora assembles the pieces of this puzzle the true and troubling portrait of her parents’ extraordinary marriage is slowly revealed…

Review

The opening line of this book sets it up perfectly. It immediately establishes the central mystery and creates a sense of intrigue that carried me through the story, which is well-written throughout as it goes from thought-provoking to distinctly enigmatic.

Ingrid has not been seen for 12 years, but in the weeks leading up to her disappearance she left a series of letters behind for her husband, Gil, which recount the story of their relationship. The chapters alternate between these letters, and the present day, where Gil is dying and being cared for by his two daughters, with the question of whether Ingrid is somehow alive still burning.

I thought this structure worked well and it certainly gave the book a very character-driven feel, although at times it felt like there was too much emphasis on the letters and not enough on the present day storyline, which made it slightly harder to grasp and connect with a couple of the characters.

Also, while Ingrid’s letters are engaging and written very effectively, they were too long and detailed to be presented as actual hand-written letters. It seems more like a second-person narrative, but in fairness, the overall concept of telling a large part of the story in this way is great.

Both storylines were enjoyable to read, and that was mostly down to Claire Fuller’s writing style, which I really liked. The writing has a really nice flow which helps give the story a relatively fast pace, while the dialogue and the descriptions were both excellent. I especially noticed how well developed the settings are, often adding a neat extra layer to each scene.

The writing definitely helps to make up for the fact that not many of the characters are very likeable, as they add plenty to the story and are still reasonably entertaining to read about. Gil is quite eccentric but unlikable, and I also found it difficult to warm completely to both Ingrid and Flora.

I feel like the ending was meant to challenge me as the reader to provide my own interpretation of the book, which is in line with some of the messages and quotes scattered throughout. This book clearly emphasises that everyone interprets a book differently, and the somewhat ambiguous ending reflects that.

Though it provides closure for the characters, it left some questions hanging in the air and there are no definitive answers about some aspects of the plot one way or the other. It would have been nice to know more, but much is left to the reader’s imagination.

On the whole, I did enjoy reading this book. A writing style full of fluidity, an intriguing plot and the things I gradually learned about each of the characters were real high points. There were some weaknesses such as the portrayal of some characters and the unnecessary use of triggers, but I found lots to admire in this rather uniquely told story.

Themes

This book contains a couple of dark themes and triggers, such as attempted rape and stillbirth. They are not described in serious detail, but it might be best to skip this book if they are likely to cause a negative reaction. There is also some sexual content and drug use.

Verdict

A thought-provoking and imaginative book with a nice writing style, I found this a relatively enjoyable read.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5

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