Wednesday 22 September 2021

Clare Chambers

If only I hadn't gone back to the house on the day Lexi left; if only Anne Trevillion had been better at tennis; if only they hadn't taken on a new German teacher at my father's school thirty years ago.  Learning to Swim by Clare Chambers

Took a late summer trip to Covent Garden which was abloom with flower barrows and the city seems alive again after a long lockdown.  The book that accompanied me on the train was Learning to Swim by Clare Chambers which I absolutely loved.

You may have read her latest novel Small Pleasures set in the 1950's where a likeable female journalist investigates a suburban 'virgin birth'.  The success of Small Pleasures has resulted in the reissue of the earlier novels and I'm racing through them and must confess that I liked Learning to Swim even more!  Probably because it's a coming of age novel, my favourite genre, from modern classics such as A Greengage Summer and I Capture the Castle to Jane Eyre.

Clare Chambers has a light touch and I liked the opening where we first meet Abigail visiting her mother who is sorting photos from a cardboard box and muttering:

'Blurred, blurred, duplicate, awful bags under my eyes, don't know who that is.'

Abigail is in her early thirties and plays cello in an orchestra.  She has some difficulty crossing London by tube carrying a cello but makes it to her charity concert and runs into Marcus Radley a man she has not seen for thirteen years.  

 'We were both remembering the occasion of our last meeting: the heat in the chapel; the schoolgirl soprano breaking the last of us down; the windy graveside.'

From there the novel goes back to Abigail's early life.  A shy girl who is bullied at school finally finds a best friend and becomes besotted with her bohemian family.  My favourite part was when a teddy bear gets thrown in to the Thames!  

Having now read four of her novels I would say that Clare Chambers has something of the storytelling skill of Anne Tyler and the very English humour of Jilly Cooper.  Glad I still have two more to read.