By Claire Fuller
In this spine-tingling tale Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but she never sends them. Instead she hides them within the thousands of books her husband has collected. After she writes her final letter, Ingrid disappears.
Twelve years later, her adult daughter, Flora comes home to look after her injured father. Secretly, Flora has never believed her mother is dead, and she starts asking questions, without realizing that the answers she’s looking for are hidden in the books that surround her.
This book wasn’t at all what I was expecting but I really enjoyed it. I chose to read this book after reading the blurb online.
The first line of the book is memorable and one of those that instantly makes you want to know more:
“Gil Coleman looked down from the first-floor window of the bookshop and saw his dead wife standing below.”
Whilst in the bookshop he had picked up a copy of a book he recognised and had a feeling he already owned, within the book was a letter with his name on it. This letter is one of many that his wife, Ingrid, wrote to him before her disappearance eleven years and ten months earlier.
Whilst still at the bookshop Gil happens to glance out the window and sees his dead wife stood on the pavement opposite the shop. “The woman tilted her heart-shaped face to look up, as if she knew Gil was watching, and in that moment he understood the woman was his wife.”
Gil believes he would know Ingrid and her expression anywhere so chases along the pier after her in the rain and whilst he is doing so he falls and injures himself. As he is falling Gil thinks about how much fuss his eldest daughter Nanette will make and how worried Flora will be when she finds out.
My favourite character in the book is Flora, she is very carefree, a little ditzy and a likeable character. Nan on the other hand appears uptight and a little bossy as a result of playing mum to Flora after their mother disappeared.
“She had no intention of telling Nan that she and Richard had stayed in bed for the past two days. That twice Flora had pulled on jeans and a jumped and run to the shop on the Stockbridge Road to buy another couple of bottles of wine, a lump of plastic cheddar, sliced white bread, baked beans and chocolate.”
Nan calls Flora from the hospital after Gil’s fall and they arrange to meet at Gil’s house: The Swimming Pavilion. Flora reluctantly explains to Richard what is happening as she packs her pack and during the conversation’ Richard said. ‘The Gil Coleman who wrote A Man of Pleasure?’ She knew without turning around what the expression on his face would be, and that was why, she reminded herself, she must never sleep with a book shop assistant again.”
During her talk with Richard we find out that Flora still believes her mother is alive, “We don’t know what happened. And it was eleven years ago. But now she’s back. Daddy saw her in Hadleigh.’ Flora couldn’t hide her excitement.”
I love that the author chose to have Ingrid put the letters inside books. The first letter explains the reason why Ingrid chose to write the letters to Gil,
“Dear Gil, it’s four in the morning and I can’t sleep. I found a pad of this yellow paper and I thought I’d write you a letter. A letter putting down all the things I haven’t been able to say in person – the truth about our marriage from the beginning. I’m sure I’ll write things you claim I imagined, dreamt, made up, but this is how I see it. This, here, is my truth.”
Through the letters we learn about Ingrid’s personality, how she met Gil and the events leading up to her disappearance. The letters were originally intended to be send to Gil but when of her girls wakes up Ingrid stashes one in a book temporarily and then decides to put the rest in books as well. “I’ve been thinking that I’ll leave all my letters in your books. Perhaps you’ll never find them, maybe they’ll never be read. I can live with that.”
The letters were a compelling read filled with regret: “I love who you were then and who we might have become…If I could I would turn our love on its head: we would get the anger, the guilt, the blame, the disappointment, the irritation, the work-a-day and humdrum over and done with first. We would have everything to look forward to.”
In the present as Flora gets closer to her father’s house she begins to wonder if her mother will be there waiting for her. “When she reached the lane the idea that Ingrid might be around the corner made her hesitate. For years she had practiced what she would say to her mother when she saw her again. There were plenty of choices – ‘where have you been? – ‘how could you leave us’ – but mostly she came back to ‘why?’”
I loved the sound of Gil’s house “In the hallway, towering piles of books lined the walls all the way to the kitchen. Precarious columns of paperbacks and hardbacks, cracked spines and dust jackets, rose liked eroded sea stacks, their grey pages stratified rock. Many were higher than Flora’s head…Gil collected them for the handwritten ephemera used as bookmarks. ..bits of paper with which he could piece together other people’s lives.”
The author is very good at writing about the everyday hurts that can occur within relationships; about grief, loss and betrayal. She also made me care about the characters and what had happened to bring them to this point in their lives. I wanted to know what had happened to Ingrid and I felt a whole host of emotions whilst reading this book. I was disappointed when I finished reading it but I was only disappointed because the book was finished.
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