January is the time of year to cosy up with a book in Edinburgh. There’s been gale force winds, there’s been snow, there’s been below freezing temperatures and both Mike and I have caught colds to top it off.

While listening to the wind roaring outside, I’ve finished two books this month. Both of them were family dramas: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller.

Little Fires Everywhere

The Richardson house is ablaze at the start of Little Fires Everywhere, and then the author shifts back to the series of events that led to the fire. Who set it? Why?

Morality, racial tensions, class tensions and what it means to be a mother were themes that were brought up in this story of the intertwining of two families from very different backgrounds, and a subplot about a custody battle.

Swimming Lessons

This is a story about a family trying to stay afloat.

Flora is called back to her childhood home in Dorset after her father, Gil, has had an accident. The house is a mess and is filled to the brim with books: books lining every wall, books on the beds, books everywhere. Gil is a writer who appears to have lost the plot if his erratic behaviour is anything to go off, and Flora’s sister has been selling the books to a local second-hand store on the sly to try to keep the collection under control. Not far from the chaotic house is the beach, where Flora and her mother Ingrid used to go swimming. Until Flora was 10-years-old, when one day her mother left for the beach and never returned.

Flora’s story is interspersed with letters from Ingrid, written to her father about their marriage. The letters are full of love, grief, rage, betrayal and family secrets. Ingrid places each of them in a different one of Gil’s books, knowing he may never find them.

Flora’s memories of her childhood are very different to Ingrid’s experience of that time in their lives, which creates an interesting tension between the two points of view. This creates many questions around the character Gil; present day Gil seems remorseful and mild, but the Gil from the letters can be a monster.

What did you read in January?


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