Claire Fuller – Swimming Lessons

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Claire Fuller – Swimming Lessons

Flora is called to her hometown by her sister Nan when their father Gil had an accident after presumably having seen Ingrid – his wife who went missing, maybe drowned, twelve years ago. The girls try to reconstruct what happened on that day, Flora was only ten and Nan, five years older, had to take over the responsibility since Gil Coleman, the renowned writer, was simply not capable of family life and suffered from his wife’s lost. Slowly Flora has to adapt the conception of her family to an alternative reality which the small girl from then could not fully grasp. The relationship between father and mother was not full of love as the mother’s letters to her husband, written shortly before she disappeared, reveal and the father’s most successful novel might also contain a key to still unanswered questions.

Claire Fuller lets us immerse in a family story told from different points in time. First, we learn what Flora and Nan undergo in the present and how they explain the events from the past. Then, the mother’s letters give insight into an absent character’s point of view who has a completely different focus. On the one hand, the girls view on the parent’s relationship, on the other hand, the young student who loves her lecturer who is a lot older and seduces her and for whom she actually gives up the life she dreamt of. Only when put together do those two perspectives form a complete and complex picture of a family structure and the psychological impact of family life and loss of a parent.

Apart from the spotlight on the multifaceted relationships affected and strongly influenced by the experiences the characters undergo, the author has a second theme to offer: the relevance of literature for life. Apparently, the writer Gil Coleman used events from their real life for his work of art which did not remain without consequences. Apart from that, his life is centred around books and here, he has an extraordinary and interesting leisure activity: Gil is collecting novels with margin notes from the readers. At one point in the novel, his conception is explained:


Fiction is about readers. Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. (pos. 1287 in the e-book).

I like this idea a lot and think it is an interesting approach not only to concentrate on the writer’s process in producing the novel, but also to explore what happens in a reader in the process of reading. Moreover, Ingrid’s letters are hidden in novels. I would have liked to know more of these books since I believe that the specific one chosen for a particular letter might have another sub-message which might be lost on me.

All in all, a wonderful piece of art which I enjoyed a lot.

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