Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

swimming-lessonsFeels like: Every single time you tell your girlfriend “Seriously, just leave him,” and she says “But I can’t, you don’t understand.”

Song pairing: “Bluecid” by Sevadaliza

If you haven’t read Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, you’re doing this all wrong. I was expecting something incredibly different after having read Claire Fuller’s debut novel from 2015. Swimming Lessons is no Our Endless Numbered Days.

Plot: Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, which detail their marriage and life together. She puts these letters in between the pages of used books in their home, which stands as a once beloved swimming pavilion nestled in the shores of Dorset beach. One day, after she has written her last letter, she disappears, leaving behind her two small children and her husband, who has been living separately in New York after publishing his first successful book.

We’re taken through the beauty of a budding relationship between Ingrid and her will-be beau, her creative writing professor and blossoming misogynist artist, Gil. He seduces young Ingrid with promises, takes her away from her education, gets her pregnant and marries her. The problem with Gil, aside from the fact that he’s such a stereotypical monster with grandiose ideas of his self-worth and talent, is that he’s the type of man who reveres women for their reproductive capabilities, but refuses to stay faithful. His sweet wife should stay at home and take care of the children while he gallivants and has affairs under her nose. Fuller writes this character so well that my hate for him didn’t really set in until the book was well and over. She’s excellent at insidiousness, a true talent at entrapment, and you’ll be feeling things long before your intellectual understanding of why you’re feeling them dawns on you.

The best part about this book was watching the dissolution of Ingrid and Gil through the letters Ingrid wrote and hid in between pages of used books, a collection of which Gil grew throughout the novel. What a beautifully sad concept, just that in itself. Had the entire novel been just those secret letters, I would have had a totally different experience with it. However, those chapters are wedged in between current-day moments of young and flighty Flora and older, responsible Nan (who might as well be called “the other daughter”) as they take care of their aging and confused father; the bewildered hermit Gil becomes after Ingrid disappears.

I enjoyed this book, I did. But its complexity is nothing compared to Our Endless Numbered Days, and I found myself constantly comparing the two. It doesn’t help that Claire Fuller’s writing is so clear and concise, peppered with just the finest amount of surrealism, so signature, that I feel the books take place in the same universe during the same time. Somewhere a disappeared Ingrid is having tea with a grown-up Peggy Hillcoat, and they’re discussing the virtues of a life lived in isolation, entirely in one’s own mind.

Memorable Quotes:

🌧”Late that evening when we were sitting out on the veranda, you said ‘I don’t think we’ll ever have to shout to make ourselves heard over the noise of the rain drumming on the roof. I don’t think it’ll ever rain again.’ You kneeled in front of me, took my face in your hands, and kissed me again.”🌧
🌊”Under the surface, the water boiled as if storm clouds were massing and dispersing at great speed, and I spiraled through them, a leaf in a whirlwind. “🌊
☁️”I’d taken that knitted boot to the hospital, grabbing it at the last minute from under my pillow, and although there was only one, I’d been excited to see it on him. It disappeared in that hospital room, and I never found out where it went. In good moments, I like to think the goodwife put it on his tiny feet.”☁️

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