Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

swimming lessonsGil Coleman, aging has-been writer, finds a letter addressed to him within a book in a second-hand bookshop, and then sees a woman outside who he could swear is his wife Ingrid, gone for twelve years and presumed dead.  Gil then nearly kills himself following her through the rain when he falls over the edge of a beach promenade.

His daughters, pragmatic Nan and free-spirited Flora, come back home to his seaside home in southern England to take care of him during his convalescence.

Ingrid Coleman’s disappearance was open-ended.  The assumption was that she had drowned during one of her many lengthy ocean swims.  As we find out the family’s back story, it isn’t that simple.

The back story is told in the form of letters that Ingrid wrote to Gil and stuck inside various books in his vast collection.  Considering that Gil was a book hoarder, the chances were little to none that he’d ever read her letters, hidden among the thousands of books in his house.

In the latter-day, Flora and Nan, helped by Flora’s boyfriend Richard, take care of Gil and piece together their own memories of Ingrid.  Flora, a little hellion in childhood and a daddy’s girl, finds out some hard truths about her father as she and Nan come to terms, rather abruptly in places, with their family’s past.

Swimming Lessons was a slow start for me, but once the structure of the book kicked in (alternating chapters of narration and time changes) I didn’t want to put it down.  The main characters, I found, were hard to like, although I gained a fair amount of sympathy for Ingrid as the book progressed.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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