So, I actually read and reviewed this at the beginning of the year but seeing as I’m trying to get back into this blogging lark I thought I’d post my review on here too. And I gave it 5 stars so it’s totes worth it. I think.
Won an arc of this and decided to read it before the release date. Still undecided on whether this was a good idea considering my current mental state. This book fucked me up.
I was not prepared to be swept away by this wonderfully written novel and it’s rich and complex characters. Events unfold little by little and make you want to read quicker and quicker to find out what happens. There are little nuggets in here that made my heart hurt when I read them. A quiet read in many ways, but so thrilling. I sat for a while after finishing this, just holding it, and I wanted to eat it. This is not normal behaviour. But I just want everyone to read this book and love it as much as I do.
‘Swimming Lessons’ is the kind of book that makes me question every other book I’ve given five stars to. It’s been a while since I’ve been left with so many feelings after reading a book.
At the start of the novel Gil, an elderly man, is looking through some second hand books when he sees a woman out in the rain. A woman who he believes to be his wife Ingrid – who has been missing, presumed drowned, for several years. Gil then runs out into the rain, and falls and injures himself whilst pursuing her. From this point on we get alternate chapters from the viewpoint of one of their daughters, Flora, who goes home with her sister, Nan, to care for her father. Our second viewpoint is through letters written to Gil by Ingrid, which she has left in various books.
Although we only hear from Ingrid through the letters she writes, she was such a vivid character for me. I felt for her, I felt her internal struggles, her wants and needs that go unfulfilled, her discomfort with motherhood, and her tragic love for a man who did not deserve it. She was essential for me in this book, and I wouldn’t have loved it as much had she not been the woman she was.
Flora is also a wonderful character, yet like her father in so many ways. The only thing she seems to share with Ingrid is her love for swimming, and for the water. Quite oblivious to her fathers sordid past, she adores him, she’s outgoing and self assured, and has not experienced the more troublesome childhood that Nan has, who takes over mothering Flora as a teenager. Whilst Nan also cares for her father deeply, she is more aware of his true character, more cautious around him, and has a more reserved and careful character. She was also a favourite of mine!
Younger Gil (whilst still being twenty plus years older than Ingrid), was a womaniser, a man at the centre of his own universe and with seemingly no regard for those around him. He churned up so much anger in me, I really haven’t felt such dislike for a character in a while. Whilst he certainly doesn’t make up for this in my eyes with his older self, he is still a changed man. A sick man, a broken man, a lonely man. His view has shifted, I think he realises his mistakes, and while I would never forgive him for his treatment of Ingrid, he is at least a little bit closer to some form of redemption.
Aside from these core characters, we meet many others along the way, all that provide something different, all crucial to the story. But I shan’t give away much more!
In terms of writing style, this is not a difficult book to read. Yet it is dense, its multi layered, and i’m sure if I read it again I could come away with a heap of new feelings. I found myself completely invested in this unconventional family, and felt their internal struggles and pain right alongside them. Perhaps the ending could be seen as cliche by some, but I thought it was perfect. I don’t want to give anything else at all away – just read this book!