Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Lovers of Amherst by William Nicholson

In William Nicholson's latest novel the lovers of Amherst are Mabel Todd, who enjoys a fairly open marriage with her young academic husband and Austin, the brother of nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson. Austin Dickinson is unhappy in his marriage, and secretly meets Mabel in the home of his sisters, where they are encouraged by reclusive Emily, who listens to their meetings through the keyhole.

The story may sound extraordinary, but the relationship of Austin and Mabel is extensively documented in diaries and the numerous love letters the two wrote to each other. Not surprisingly Nicholson’s modern day character, Alice, wants to write a screenplay about the affair. She travels from London to Amherst, Massachusetts where she has a contact in the form of much older, but still heart-breakingly handsome, Nick, who offers Alice a place to stay.

Of course one thing leads to another and suddenly there are two sets of lovers in Amherst. Nick and Alice enjoy a brief but turbulent fling, and they argue a lot about the Dickinsons, Mabel and love. This gives Nicholson the opportunity to explore issues that surround the nature of love and happiness, embellished by the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

Nicholson knows how to put his characters through the ringer in order to achieve some kind of enlightenment. While Emily Dickinson is a shadowy figure in the background, her poetry stands out for its intensity and understanding. In spite of their obvious failings the characters are interesting and engaging, even serial womaniser Nick, who has his demons. This is another terrific novel from Nicholson who is a dab hand at dissecting love in a way that is both sympathetic and intelligent.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Lovers of Amherst

No comments:

Post a Comment