‘Gil Coleman looked down from the window and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below.’
Gil’s wife, Ingrid has been missing, presumed drowned, for twelve years.
A possible sighting brings their children, Nan and Flora, home. Together they begin to confront the mystery of their mother. Is Ingrid dead? Or did she leave? And do the letters hidden within Gil’s books hold the answer to the truth behind his marriage, a truth hidden from everyone including his own children?
A beautiful and intriguing cover that heralds an equally intriguing story. Missing presumed drowned, Ingrid left behind a husband and two daughters at a loss as to what really happened. Was it an accident, was it suicide and if the latter, why?
The story starts with Gil, believing he has spotted his ‘dead’ wife, but Gil is ill and unreliable, but could he really have seen her? One daughter believes, or wants to believe he has, while the other has long accepted her mother’s departure. What follows is an unravelling of the relationship between Gil and Ingrid, and indeed Ingrid and her daughters. Told largely by letters written by Ingrid to Gil and hidden within his extensive book collection, they remain unread. Would they shed light on what really happened if the truth they revealed was known? More importantly will anyone discover their existence to find out?
The letters reveal a bittersweet and unconventional relationship that developed between Gil and Ingrid, he as her older University tutor and she as a young somewhat naive student. Against the odds the relationship led to marriage and ultimately children. He produced a best-selling book and to the outside world he was a lauded author and she the supportive wife and mother. But what was the reality? The letters reveal that their country life was not the perfect idyll that many might have believed. It was an unbalanced relationship, fraught with infidelity and mistrust. True we only have one side of the story, but it’s one written with such depth and emotion it’s hard not to believe its validity.
The story revealed by the letters is interspersed with the contemporary reality of Nan and Flora coping with Gil’s illness and coming to terms with their own troubled relationship. I will admit that I couldn’t particularly warm to Flora, and while Nan wasn’t the most endearing character either, it was much easier to understand her and have some sympathy for her situation, having always had to take responsibility and be the adult, almost from childhood.
Ingrid is certainly the person we feel we know most by the end of the book and yet she is the character we never meet in the flesh. She is the most sympathetic, assuming she is reliable, and the most rounded and three-dimensional. Yet for all that, she is still by the end an enigma as we are still left doubting what happened. But perhaps that is intentional. As Gil says to his students early in the book ‘all books are created by the reader’ so maybe it is for us to decide what we feel is the reality.
Swimming Lessons is a beautifully written book, that shines a light on the realities and truths of a troubled marriage, at times, joyous, at others claustrophobic. It highlights the frustrations of having unfulfilled hopes and dreams and how getting what you want isn’t always enough. It’s certainly thought-provoking and evocative and would make an ideal book club read because of the different responses it’s likely to invoke.
I received an ecopy via NetGalley to enable this review.