In 1976, eight-year-old Peggy’s father James spends his time talking with his survivalist friends while her mother, Ute, prepares for a concert tour. Ute has been gone several weeks when James tells Peggy they are going on vacation. They travel from London to Germany camping in a tent, finally arriving at a small cabin that is falling down. James tells Peggy that everyone is dead and they are the only people left in the world, which has been destroyed.
In 1985, Peggy has been returned home to Ute and her brother Oscar, who was born after she and James left. She is struggling to adapt to the real world.
This novel reminded me very much of Paul Theroux’s Mosquito Coast, only with an added twist. Still, it is absolutely gripping, as James gradually loses touch with reality.
Best of Ten!
I was interested in reading Swimming Lessons when it came out, but I never actually got hold of a copy. Then I read Fuller’s next novel, Bitter Orange, and liked it so much that I had to read Swimming Lessons.
Gil Colman, a famous writer who hasn’t written anything for years, is now elderly and dying of cancer. He has discovered letters from Ingrid, his wife who was presumed drowned years ago, tucked away in his thousands of books, many of which were removed from his house by his daughter Nan and sold to a bookstore. He is in the bookstore, having discovered one of the notes, when he thinks he sees Ingrid out in the street. Rushing after her, he gets injured.
That is the setup of the novel. From there, chapters alternate between the letters telling the story of their marriage from Ingrid’s point of view and Gil’s daughter Flora’s point of view as she returns home because her father is in the hospital. She tries to learn more about Ingrid, who she believes is alive. Although the sections about the current time and Flora’s struggles are interesting, most enthralling are Ingrid’s letters to her husband, describing a marriage in which, as a naïve girl thirty years Gil’s junior, she falls into a life she does not want, of marriage and children, to a husband who is serially unfaithful, and who, in a way, co-opts her past.
This is a fascinating and haunting story about the secrets of a marriage.
The World’s Wife
Best of Ten!
Frances, on her deathbed in some sort of institution, remembers the events of a summer 20 years before, in 1969, when she came to know her only friends. Frances’s mother has recently died when she takes a job at a crumbling mansion called Lyntons where she is to report on any interesting architectural features on the grounds to its new owner. There she meets Peter, who has been similarly employed to evaluate the house and its contents, and Cara, his wife.
Cara and Peter befriend Frances during a heady summer of near camping out in the destroyed house. The three soon begin picnicking and enjoying themselves while Cara tells Frances fascinating stories about their previous lives.
There is clearly something a little overstrung and off about Cara, but Frances is entranced by the friendship she has never had before and also falling in love with Peter. Even when the two show they are not particularly honest, she is not dissuaded, despite hints from her other friend, Victor, the vicar.
This novel is wildly atmospheric while somehow remaining quiet. There are odd, unexplained touches—a telescope inserted into the floor of Frances’s attic bedroom, so that she can see what happens in the bathroom below, imagined smells, noises, and glimpses of faces in the attic, suggesting a haunting. Slowly, we realize that Frances has her own problems.
This is a haunting novel, evocatively written, about loneliness and longing, about the fathomless qualities of guilt. I was riveted by it.
Days of Awe
The Poison Tree