I had dinner at Northfield's pizza farm last night. We ate pepperoni pizza, drank Surly, and played frisbee. I also finished this book. As I brainstormed for the review, I realized that nine of my last ten reviews cover books written by women. I hope to maintain this gender imbalance. This is also the second book in a row written by a woman named "Claire" (I just finished Claire Messud's Burning Girl ) This was unintentional (and not important or interesting). This review is about Claire Fuller, English author of three novels. Swimming Lessons is her second book. Her third novel, Bitter Orange, will be released this month.
Fuller's Swimming Lessons came on my radar last year when it was a Book of the Month pick. I didn't choose it, for whatever reason, but considered returning to it at some point. The first thing to know about Swimming Lessons is that the entire plot feels open to reader interpretation. For that reason, it's hard to give an accurate synopsis. The gist is that a Norwegian woman, Ingrid, disappears from her home. She has a husband (but resents him because he's a pompous asshole) and children (but resents them because they are boring and always hungry). Yes-- this is another story about a woman who gives up a degree/ financial security in order to care for husband/ children...and it makes her miserable. Ingrid writes a series of (v. depressing) letters to her husband describing the gloom of motherhood, but she never actually gives him the letters. Instead, she hides the letters in books lying around the house. One morning, Ingrid walks towards the sea and simply disappears. Is it an escape? Suicide? Drowning?
This book is simply OK/fine. The characters don't feel interesting or complex enough to draw me in. I also hate Ingrid's husband, Gil. I sense that Fuller wants us to sympathize with him at points (I refuse). Gil is a jerk and a terrible husband. I've seen this book compared to Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You. I can see the similarities, though I think Ng's novel is so much better.
For what it's worth, I read this as a tale of extreme marital discord, depression, and suicide. As I mentioned, Fuller leaves plenty of space for interpretation, so I'd love to discuss this with other people.