Article published on January 5, 2017.
They say nobody really knows what goes on inside a marriage and that is certainly true of Gil and Ingrid Coleman’s, the couple at the centre of Claire Fuller’s second novel.
When Gil thinks he sees his wife from the window of a book shop, many years after her disappearance and presumed death, daughter Flora hurries back to the family home. She has never quite given up hope of seeing her mother again but immediately locks horns with sister Nan as old resentments surface and the pressure of managing their father’s expectations becomes a burden neither of them are emotionally prepared for.
Letters from Ingrid to Gil, written before her disappearance and hidden between the pages of his collection of thousands of books in their home, are interspersed creating a dual narrative of past and present, gradually unveiling the heartbreaking truth of their relationship.
I found this to be a really thoughtful exploration of a marriage between two fundamentally unsuited people and the impact this had on them, their daughters and their friends. Despite the time slip to the 70s when, as Claire reminded me when I spoke to her (see our Big Interview in the (nb91) Winter issue of nb magazine!), it was still very unusual for a woman to walk away from a marriage, this is less social commentary and more a devastating revelation of the perils of passion.
Ingrid’s letters are so well written – I was in agony for her – but they are counterbalanced perfectly by the present day consequences of her vanishing for her husband and children. As Flora, Gil and Nan first flounder then gradually make their peace in their own ways the ever-present coastal landscape makes it’s enticing presence felt throughout the delicately wrought prose.
It’s a kind of mystery – but you’ll find yourself caring more about why Ingrid went than where she went. Haunting and memorable.
– Mel Mitchell 5/5
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller, published by Fig Tree on 26 January, 2017