Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller

Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller

Two things will keep this a relatively short review. One: Christmas (because no, I still haven’t even made a list. Of anything). Two: because actually what I want to do is have a proper, in-depth, book-club-style conversation with other people who have read this. So think of the review as a taster. You can also look on this page as they suggest you to put  Swimming Lessons from https://www.bellaaquapoolsandspas.com/ on your Christmas list (even though I’m sure you’ve had yours ready for months), anticipate its arrival in the dog-days of January, immerse yourself in every page and then get back to me. Tell me what you think, listen to what I think. We can have coffee. It’ll be great!

Twelve years ago, Ingrid Coleman disappeared. Now her younger daughter, Flora, hears from her sister that their father, Gil, is claiming to have seen her. Flora heads back to their eccentric family home, a swimming pavilion on the English coast. Gil is in hospital, having fallen from the sea wall at the time of the sighting. Her sister, practical Nan, wants to start clearing the contents of the house. But theirs is a house held up by the threads of the past; the question is, how much will be revealed before it disintegrates around them?

The narrative is given to us overlapping sections, through Flora’s eyes in 2004 and through a series of letters written by Ingrid to Gil in 1992 just before she vanished. I sometimes find double-handers hard work, especially when they go over the same ground. No such problem here. Instead, the viewpoints dovetail, adding resonance and colour to each other but never becoming repetitive. And the colour. Swimming Lessons has got that beautiful washed out Polaroid feel to it, at times doubled up with the memory of an actual photograph:

In the suitcase under my bed there’s a photograph Jonathon took of you and Flora sitting on the steps of your writing room: you’re fifty and Flora’s nearly five, in a month she’ll start school. It’s late afternoon, the shadows are long, the light is golden. For once she’s wearing clothes – a bikini with a frill around the bottom. Her feet are crusted with sand, as if she’s just come up from the beach. You sit beside her in jeans and a T-shirt, leaning forward, your arms folded on your knees, your head angled towards her. The sun highlights your cheekbones and the fair hair on your forearms. Flora is looking up at you, an intense concentrated stare, and it is clear you’re in deep conversation.


I could tell you how Swimming Lessons reminded me of Barbara Trapido, or early Margaret Drabble. Or about the delicate, double filter coming of age feel, the sand between the toes. Flora draws anatomically correct illustrations on her lover’s skin, a metaphor for the way that lives can appear to be visible when so much of the blood and pulse and bone is hidden. I could tell you about that. But what I want you to do is to read the book so that we can sit down and talk about it. Go on. Please.


Swimming Lessons will be published by Fig Tree/Penguin on January 26th. For more details, or to pre-order, click here

1 Comment

  1. Poppy Peacock
    15 Dec 2016

    Yes! My reaction too… weeks since I read it and it still haunts. I really want to discuss this, can’t wait to do so, so put the kettle on…

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