Review of Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
Thank you to Tin House Publishing for generously supplying me with a review copy of Swimming Lessons by Clair Fuller. I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Swimming Lessons was a book that took me down a road that I was not expecting. I went into it thinking it would be a relatively easy read. I was very wrong. This book frustrated me, disturbed me, made me think, and made me question the motives of each character. The writing was so completely immersive that I could not put this book down. It was one of those books that I would be thinking about even when I wasn't reading it. The story was so unusual I wanted to take the time to think about it so that I could get my mind wrapped around what was happening in the story.
Swimming Lessons is written in present day through the lens of Ingrid's daughter Flora and then alternates to the past through letters that Ingrid writes to her husband. I have said this time and again but letters in books are one of my favorite ways of getting honest heartfelt emotion in a book. People tend to be more honest and true when they write letters. They share thoughts and feelings that they might normally leave unsaid because there is freedom in writing your feelings and not having to say them out loud. Instead of mailing the letters to her husband, Gil, Ingrid hides them, undread, in his library of over a thousand books. She hides her letters in books that she thinks best describes the emotion or situation written in that letter. After Ingrid hides her last letter she walks away from her home and completely disappears leaving behind her life, husband, and her two young daughters. The story begins twelve years later and her husband Gil is convinced that he has seen his wife. Gil and Flora are convinced that Ingrid is alive and didn't drown like everyone has believed for the last twelve years. Flora will go on a journey to figure out the truth about what really happened to her mother. This book exposes the secrets behind a deeply troubled marriage in such an open and completely honest way.
I loved these two quotes on reading and writing and definitely thought they were worth sharing.
"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. What do you think happens in the gaps - the unsaid things, everything you don't write? The reader fills them with their own imagination. But does each reader fill them how you want, or in the same way? Of course not." Page 34-35
"Forget that first-edition, signed by the author nonsense. Fiction is about readers. Without readers, there is no point to books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. But often the only way to see what a reader thought, how they lived when they were reading, is to examine what they left behind." page 135
Trigger warnings for Swimming lessons. If you are uncomfortable reading sex scenes, infidelity, and a recurring use of language I would not recommend picking up this book. All of these elements are integral to this particular story and plot line, but if they leave you as the reader in an uncomfortable place then I would say this is not the book for you.
Normally I try to share similar reads so you can get a feel for if you will like this book, but honestly, I could not come up with anything similar. This book is in a category all its own.
Overall rating - 4/5 stars