Swimming Lessons is the second novel by English author Claire Fuller. I was lucky enough to get an advanced reading copy of the book to review for our readers.
Swimming Lessons is a story within a story about a passionate but troubled marriage and its aftermath. Ingrid Coleman wrote letters to her husband, Gil, and hid them in his collection of books before disappearing, presumed drowned. In the present day, Gil sees a woman who looks like his wife and has an accident attempting to chase after her. His two adult daughters, Flora and Nan, return home to care for him. Flora, who never believed her mother was dead, desperately wants to know what happened to Ingrid; she doesn’t realize that the answers to so many of her questions lie hidden within the books around her.
I loved Fuller’s descriptive passages, especially the ones detailing the world as Flora sees it (for example, “cigarettes the colour of wet bark” on pg 261). I found Ingrid’s letters to be absolutely fascinating, making Ingrid very alive and present throughout Swimming Lessons, even though she wasn’t physically there. Her letters overshadowed the present-day story about Flora, Nan and Gil for much of the book. But I also loved how the letters gradually became connected to the present more and more as the book progressed.
Swimming Lessons was a fantastic read that was extremely hard to put down. The book is expected to be published in early February – keep an eye out for it in our catalogue! We’ll also have an interview with Ms. Fuller here on this blog on February 1st, so stay tuned for that!
Haruki Murakami is a difficult author to write about. He is one of my favourite writers, who surprises and delights me each time I begin a new novel of his. If there is one commonality that ties his novels together, it’s the fact that his body of fiction defies categorization. Murakami frequently writes about people’s intimate life experiences while they deal with love, loss, growth, pain and revelation. Often these stories are set within a certain point in history, which adds a human dimension to our understanding of that time.
Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” is just that novel. Published in 1987 to critical acclaim, “Norwegian Wood” has been cited as his best novel. “Norwegian Wood” tells the story of Toru, an introspective young man studying in Tokyo during the sixties. The story follows Toru’s coming of age while he navigates his new life in Tokyo as well as coming to terms with the unexpected death of his best friend, Kizuki. As Toru tries to understand Kizuki’s senseless passing as well as determine what path, both personally and academically to take, he rekindles his friendship with Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko.
Toru and Naoko soon realize that their feelings for each goes beyond friendship, which is further complicated by Naoko’s own inability to cope with Kizuki’s death. Naoko’s fragility makes it difficult to maintain a relationship with Toru, who eventually ends up falling equally in love with his classmate, Midori. Midori is radically different from Naoko, and Toru finds himself torn between the two loves of his life. As the plot delves deeper into Toru’s romantic and existential pain, Murakami effectively conjures the mood and atmosphere of the sixties, complete with historic and pop culture references.
The details of Toru’s experiences ultimately add up to Murakami’s sentiment that life can be beautiful and sad, tragic and unpredictable. Each and every one of us is on our own paths seeking truth in our lives and relationships. As we follow and listen to Toru’s first person narrative, Murakami reveals not only Toru’s thoughts, anxieties, and questions about life, but our own.
In honour of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday, the Prince of Wales chose a selection from Shakespeare to commemorate the occasion. The passage was taken from Henry VIII and presented this morning on the BBC.
The reading from act 5, scene 5 (edited) begins: “Let me speak, sir.
For heaven now bids me; and the words I utter
Let none think flattery, for they’ll find ’em truth”.
“She shall be, to the happiness of England,
An aged princess; many days shall see her,
And yet no day without a deed to crown it”
The extract is from a speech by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to King Henry VIII after the birth of the future Queen Elizabeth I. In consultation with Greg Doran, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Prince Charles chose and read the selection for both the birthday celebrations and the 400th anniversary of death of William Shakespeare.
Fourteen, a sonneteer thy praises sings;
What magic myst’ries in that number lie!
Your hen hath fourteen eggs beneath her wings
That fourteen chickens to the roost may fly.
Fourteen full pounds the jockey’s stone must be;
His age fourteen – a horse’s prime is past.
Fourteen long hours too oft the Bard must fast;
Fourteen bright bumpers – bliss he ne’er must see!
Before fourteen, a dozen yields the strife;
Before fourteen – e’en thirteen’s strength is vain.
Fourteen good years – a woman gives us life;
Fourteen good men – we lose that life again.
What lucubrations can be more upon it?
Fourteen good measur’d verses make a sonnet.
The word sonnet comes from the Italian word “sonetto” which means “little song” and normally contains fourteen lines. Sonnets are divided into categories based on their rhyme scheme. Shakespeare’s poems follow the “abab cdcd efef gg” format. The other traditional sonnet types are Petrachan and Spenserian. The Spenserian sonnets follow the rhyming sequence of “abab bcbc cdcd ee”. The Petrachan or Italian sonnet was named for Francesco Petrarch who popularized the sonnet and began to appear in the 14th century. This type of sonnet, has the rhyming pattern in the first octet of “abba abba” with the last six lines having various rhyming patterns. It was lines in this sextet that mark the volta, or turn in the sonnet; so that the first eight lines posed a question and the final six answered it.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! It is an ever-fix’d mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.