It’s hard not to compare books by the same author. I was a little nervous going into Swimming Lessons, because I liked Our Endless Numbered Days so much. I couldn’t help but wonder how she was going to top it. Or at least equal it. Well, she did. The stories are very different, but the compelling nature of her writing is the same.
Gil Coleman looked down from the first-floor window of the bookshop and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below.
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. –[Goodreads]
Chapters alternate between Ingrid’s letters about her marriage and the present day narration of Flora and Nan keeping watch by their father’s death bed. This structure allows the slow release of knowledge over time of both Ingrid’s life and the impact of Ingrid’s disappearance on her family.
The story of the marriage was the most compelling part of the book, for me. It revealed a hard, painful truth of a marriage based on lies and deceit. It made me angry and full of regret for Ingrid. I felt her deep sense of loss of the life she had hoped to have. I sped along, hoping the letters would eventually reveal to me the mystery of what happened in the end.
I thought it was clever the way Ingrid hid her letters in books with titles that suited the content of the letters. I also enjoyed Gil’s “hobby” of buying used books that contained items inside, or interesting marginalia. His books are piled up all over the house – imagine the hours of exploration! Unfortunately, that’s the only thing I like about Gil. Gil, as a person, is an egotistical sleazeball. It’s a wonder Ingrid held out as long as she did.
Another interesting topic this book considers is the nature of motherhood. Ingrid struggles in her role as a mother, and I believe she feels her ‘mistakes’ even more acutely knowing that she is not as ‘in tune’ with her children as she believes she should be. Does her crumbling marriage play a part in this? Or the fact that she is often isolated with her children for long stretches at a time? Or maybe motherhood just doesn’t come as naturally to her as it does to others. We can’t know for sure, but it’s inevitable that she will be judged by her actions as a mother… differently than a father would.
Flora would have liked to ask her parents why the words ‘to father’ have such a different meaning from the words ‘to mother’.
My review of Claire Fuller’s debut Our Endless Numbered Days
More reviews listed on Claire Fuller’s website.
*Thanks to House of Anansi for providing me with a copy of this book for review!