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Swimming Lessons

Swimming Lessons

4.5 2
by Claire Fuller

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Elle'sMost Anticipated Books by WomenA Most Anticipated Book atBuzzfeed, Goodreads, NYLON, Bustle,andReader's DigestFrom the author of theaward-winning andword-of-mouth sensationOur Endless Numbered Dayscomes an exhilarating literary mystery that will keep readers guessing until the final page.Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of


Elle'sMost Anticipated Books by WomenA Most Anticipated Book atBuzzfeed, Goodreads, NYLON, Bustle,andReader's DigestFrom the author of theaward-winning andword-of-mouth sensationOur Endless Numbered Dayscomes an exhilarating literary mystery that will keep readers guessing until the final page.Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he has collected over the years. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach, leaving behind her beautiful but dilapidated house by the sea, her husband, and her two daughters, Flora and Nan.
Twelve years later, Gil thinks he sees Ingrid from a bookshop window, but he’s getting older and this unlikely sighting is chalked up to senility. Flora, who has never believed her mother drowned, returns home to care for her father and to try to finally discover what happened to Ingrid. But what Flora doesn’t realize is that the answers to her questions are hidden in the books that surround her. Scandalous and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious truths of a passionate and troubled marriage.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“Gil Coleman looked down from the first-floor window of the bookshop and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below.” This provocative sentence opens Fuller’s (Our Endless Numbered Days) second novel, and an intriguing epilogue ends it; in between is the story of a woman’s failed marriage. When Ingrid Coleman disappeared from a Dorset beach, her years of swimming alone in the sea are presumed to have caught up with her, but her body is never found. Neither are her letters to Gil recounting their years together, tucked within the pages of books in his library, until that fateful day in the bookstore when he spies one while searching for the notes and marginalia that so fascinated him as an author. The novel unfolds in dual timelines. Ingrid’s one-way correspondence effectively and uncomfortably reveals her unraveling within an unhappy marriage to a selfish man unsuited for fidelity and fatherhood. A present-day story line provides younger daughter Flora’s sometimes less-well-delineated point of view; she returns home to join her sister, Nan, in caring for Gil after he injures himself chasing after Ingrid. Fuller successfully creates two discomfiting narratives, a strong backdrop for the story’s essential mystery. (Feb.)
Steph Opitz
“Playing out the various scenarios is almost like a “choose your own adventure” story for adults.For me, Ingrid’s story, voice, and perspective, makes fora haunting, motivating, and fantastic read.”
Book Riot
“[Swimming Lessons] is the story of a passionate but troubled marriage, of mothers and daughters, of letters hidden in books. The writing is efficient and impactful. This would be a perfect book club pick, as it’s a short novel that says a lot, and there’s plenty to unpack.”
Javier Ramirez
“When everything we read or watch these days seems to be a facsimile of something else, it's inspiring when a writer of Claire Fuller's talent comes along to give us something fresh and original. InSwimmingLessons, Fuller explores the all too familiar pull of duty, expectation, and guilt between a family in emotional turmoil with an unsentimental eye, recalling some of the best work of the late, great Richard Yates. Fuller's debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, was nothing short of brilliant and I'm here to tell you that she has officially avoided a sophomore slump with this gem of a book. My only complaint is that I have to wait until January of 2017 to share this with the reading public. Claire Fuller is my new favorite.”
Pam Cady
“Claire Fuller is a master of the psychological mystery. In her most recent novel,SwimmingLessons, no one is running around with a gun and no physical violence occurs. And yet damage happens. Families are cut to the bone. And lingering wounds are left festering into adulthood. This is a work that explores the very nature of forgiveness: how much should be forgiven before it becomes a burden, or before it becomes a secret life inside you until you can't even forgive yourself? It's a deliciously written story within a story that isn't over until the last page has been turned.”
Anmiryam Budner
“With Swimming Lessons, Claire Fuller confirms her place as a writer of exceptional insight and warmth. This tale of a marriage, of a family, and especially of children bearing the brunt of the fallout of betrayals and abandonment, pulls you in and refuses to let you emerge from the lives of its characters until the tale is finally told. Even then it takes time to shake the spell the book creates. A wonderful follow-up to OUR ENDLESS NUMBERED DAYS that explores similar themes through an entirely different story, Swimming Lessons will be a great book for fans of her first novel and for new fans alike.”
Joanne Berg
“Claire Fuller’sSwimmingLessonsis a beautifully told literary mystery that weaves together the lives and loves of people defined by deceit and a questionable disappearance. Like her debut novel,Our Endless Numbered Days, Fuller tiptoes brilliantly through delicate subjects.”
Katie Orphan
“I loved it and was caught up in it so thoroughly that it was my companion during every meal I ate until I finished the book. I have also never felt so inclined to leave marginalia in a book as I did after readingSwimmingLessons.”
Stephanie Crowe
“I could not putSwimming Lessonsdown and read it in one sitting! It lingered in my thoughts long after I finished. Marvelous! A must read!”
Ramona Ausubel
“Swimming Lessonshovers in the electric space between secrets and connection, between the desire to love and urge to hide. This is a biting, soaring novel.”
Paula McLain
“As in her gorgeously harrowingOur Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller returns to the territory of a mother’s disappearance and a father’s lies with bewitching and page-turning results. If anything,Swimming Lessonsis an even more complex puzzle box of a book, excavating darkly knotted family secrets, intricately cruel betrayals and layers of ambiguous loss. Fuller is so clear eyed, poised and psychologically shrewd in the unfolding of her tale, you will be kept guessing until the final penetrating sentence. An extraordinarily smart and satisfying read.”
Susan Straight
“Swimming Lessonscontinues Claire Fuller’s mastery of beautiful language and heartbreaking imagery, which lays bare the stories of infidelities, lies, revivals of love and then demise of those loves. The women of this novel fight for their very souls, and their stories unfurl like flags of independence appearing in to wave from her landscape of great books and art and hope”
David Vann
“Claire Fuller has captured love in its fullest form, nursed on betrayal and regret and guilt. Gil cheats on and abandons his wife too many times, until she disappears, leaving her clothing on the beach, and he can't know even if she's still alive. She leaves only letters, hidden in a great library of books, and he'll search for her until his end. Swimming Lessons is so smoothly, beautifully written, and the human failures here are heartbreaking.”
Kathleen Alcott
“Claire Fuller's acrobatic new novel, about a family who has failed each other, inverts our expectations of narrative time to an astonishing effect: our experience of grasping for truth about those who have left is just as pained and urgent as her characters'. Fuller's sentences are condensed maps of the human process, unfolding in patterns we immediately recognize.”
“As she did in her first novel,Our Endless Numbered Days(2015), Fuller proves to be a master of temporal space, taking readers through flashbacks and epistolary chapters at a pace timed to create wonder and suspense. It’s her beautiful prose, though, that rounds this one out, as she delves deeply to examine the legacies of a flawed and passionate marriage.”
Library Journal
Did Ingrid Coleman drown or just disappear during the summer of 1992? Fuller's richly layered second novel (after Our Endless Numbered Days) raises these questions and more. In 1976, Ingrid makes plans after college graduation, but before finishing her studies, she falls in love with her literature professor Gil Coleman. They marry after Ingrid gets pregnant, Gil is dismissed to avoid scandal, and they move to a building on the grounds of his once luxurious family property. Gil retreats to a separate cottage to write, shutting out Ingrid and daughters Flora and Nan. During June 1992, Ingrid writes her recollections of their past in daily letters to Gil. She then inserts them in appropriately titled books among his vast collection. After writing her last letter, she vanishes. Eleven years later, Flora and Nan return to the family home after Gil, while following an apparition of his wife, takes a tumble down a cliff. Gil is also suffering from pancreatic cancer and his final wish is to burn all his books, hundreds of them. Secrets from the past unfold as Flora and Nan deal with their dying father and their mother's mysterious disappearance. VERDICT Saving the best for last with revelations and surprises, Fuller's well-crafted, intricate tale captures the strengths and shortcomings of ordinary people to show how healing is possible by confronting the darkest places. [See Prepub Alert, 8/8/16.]—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO

Product Details

Tin House Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Fuller’s debut novel,Our Endless
Numbered Days,was published by Tin House in 2015 and went on to win the Desmond Elliott prize in the UK and was a finalist in the ABA Indies Choice
Award, an IndieNext pick, and chosen as a Goodreads Debut Spotlight.

Customer Reviews

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Swimming Lessons 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Sandy5 14 days ago
What I like most about this novel was how typical and normal this family felt to me and that the ordeal that they were dealing with felt real, they felt as if they could have lived next door to me. The drama was not over-the-edge, the characters were people that I could relate to or they even have been individuals I might have known, the whole novel could have even happened to someone in my family. It wasn’t an intense novel nor was it something I could lay down for a couple days, I really enjoyed it, I had concern for the characters and I needed to know how the story would play out. I felt sorry for Flora as I felt she lived outside the picture, whether she choose that or the family kept her out, she was clueless about what was happening within her own family. Nan, I liked her take charge stance but I thought she also had an attitude at times. Gil, what a dude. As I read the letters that Ingrid posted, my love for Ingrid grew and my feelings for Gil changed. Ingrid wrote from her heart, she wrote about her life, her marriage and their family, she shared this on paper and even though I only saw the one side, I thought I had seen what they had gone through before she left him. She wanted so much in life, she had dreams like we do and what she got in life was not what she had hoped. The more I read the novel, my feelings for this family changed. This was a fantastic and entertaining read and I enjoyed the ending that the author chose. I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley and Tin House Books in exchange for an honest review.
SheTreadsSoftly 24 days ago
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller is a very highly recommended family drama/mystery. "Gil Coleman looked down from the first-floor window of the bookshop and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below." Gil Coleman saw his dead wife, Ingrid, twelve years after she disappeared and followed her outside into the rain where he ended up falling and is hospitalized. It is discovered that Gil is dying from cancer. Daughters Nan and Flora meet at the family home. Gil's sighting of Ingrid is not believed by sensible Nan, who writes it off to senility, but Flora believes her mother is still alive. Ingrid Coleman disappeared in 1992, leaving behind her older husband and two daughters. It was believed that she drowned since it was well known that she loved her daily swims in the sea, but her body was never found. Gil and Ingrid met in 1976 when she was a university student in his literature class. An affair starts, Ingrid discovers she is pregnant, and the two marry. Gil is dismissed from the university and the two settle in his family home in Dorset where Gil also has a writing cottage. But Gil is a womanizing philanderer and not even remotely faithful. The rooms and halls of the family home are lined with thousands of books that Gil has collected over the years. It was the same way when Ingrid first moved in the house. As Ingrid learns more and more about Gil's character, she turns to writing letters. Her letters tell the brutally honest story of their marriage. After she finishes a letter, she tucks it into one of Gil's books where it awaits discovery. Each letter concludes with the name of the book in which that letter was hidden. Swimming Lessons is told through two timelines. The present day shows Flora's perspective and the decline of Gil. The past is recounted through Ingrid's detailed letters, telling the story of their marriage. Through Ingrid's letters, the past is exposed and more and more secrets and betrayals are revealed in their troubled marriage. This is an incredible, well-written book. I was engrossed and invested in the story from beginning to end. The writing is phenomenal. I loved the epistolary parts of the novel that tell the story of the early years through Ingrid point of view. I loved the juxtaposition of the present and the past. There are surprising revelations toward the end and an epilogue that adds depth. The characters are well developed and fully realized. The intricate story reaches a satisfactory conclusion that made me want to read Claire Fuller's first book asap. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company and Tin House Books