Gil’s wife has been missing for twelve years. believed drowned. One day as he looks out of a bookshop window he sees a woman standing in the rain, as she pushes her hair out of her way Gil recognises her, its his wife Ingrid. Her chases after her but an accident stops his pursuit. Gil’s accident and believed sighting brings his two daughters, Nan and Flora home where they begin to confront past events and the mystery of their mothers drowning.
This is a beautifully written, lyrical novel that deals with love, family, forgiveness and hope. The story moves between present day and the year 1992 when Ingrid disappeared. In the present Nana and Flora have to deal with looking after their father which initiates them contemplating their relationships with their father, mother and each other. In June 1992, just before her disappearance Ingrid writes a series of letters to Gil chronicling their relationship with all its up and downs. These letters are never sent but placed in books for Gil to find. The letters open up Ingrid’s psyche and her journey from an independent young women, full of hope and love, to the role of mother and eventually to the disappointment of betrayal. I had sympathy for character, falling in love with an older man who promises the earth but doesn’t deliver. As a reader we are never really sure what happened to her, there was never a body found only the clothes she was wearing on the beach. Flora and Gil both believe that she could be alive but Nan doesn’t. Nan is the sensible, grounded character unlike Gil and Flora who are both have artistic temperaments and flights of fancy. She takes on the role of mother to Flora and carer to Gil, at the expense of her own life; she is the only one willing to take responsibility in the family unit.
With a title like Swimming Lessons is is not surprising that water plays an important part in the narrative. For both Ingrid and Flora the sea is a place where they can go when life gets difficult, it is a place that helps wash away their anguish and gives them a sense of freedom, of being themselves.
This is a charming and erudite novel that will delight and engage the reader.