Thursday, 12 February 2015

Review: Amherst by William Nicholson

From an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and the author of Motherland, a novel about two love affairs set in Amherst—one in the present, one in the past, and both presided over by Emily Dickinson.

Alice Dickinson, a young advertising executive in London, decides to take time off work to research her idea for a screenplay: the true story of the scandalous, adulterous love affair that took place between a young, Amherst college faculty wife, Mabel Loomis Todd, and the college’s treasurer, Austin Dickinson, in the 1880s. Austin, twenty-four years Mabel’s senior and married, was the brother of the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson, whose house provided the setting for Austin and Mabel’s trysts.

Alice travels to Amherst, staying in the house of Nick Crocker, a married English academic in his fifties. As Alice researches Austin and Mabel’s story and Emily’s role in their affair, she embarks on her own affair with Nick, an affair that, of course, they both know echoes the affair that she’s writing about in her screenplay.

Interspersed with Alice’s complicated love story is the story of Austin and Mabel, historically accurate and meticulously recreated from their voluminous letters and diaries. Using the poems of Emily Dickinson throughout, Amherst is an exploration of the nature of passionate love, its delusions, and its glories. This novel is playful and scholarly, sexy and smart, and reminds us that the games we play when we fall in love have not changed that much over the years.

Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Expected publication: February 10th 2015 by Simon & Schuster 
Genres: Historical Fiction/Fiction/Romance

Kristine's Thoughts: 

I received an advanced readers copy of this book from Simon & Schuster via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

This book tells two different stories at the same time. There is the story of Austin and Mabel from the past and Alice and Nick from the present. It is told in alternating chapters and there are slight similarities between the two stories.

I quite enjoy stories that go from present to past and as usual I found the historical portion of the plot much more interesting than the present. In fact, I could take or leave Alice and Nick and was indifferent to their story. I felt no connection to them and actually feel that the book would have been better served without them in it. I found that the direction their story turned towards the end left a bad taste in my mouth. It kind of ruined the rest of the story for me. I just wasn't interested enough in the two characters to enjoy their journey.

My rating is solely on the historical part of the book that tells of Austin and Mabel. I didn't know a great deal about Emily Dickinson's brother so I was quite fascinated. The story is taken from their love letters and diaries and I feel like it read like it too. Although I did find it interesting it didn't really give me anything more than what I could get out of just reading those entries. It read a little like journal entries and didn't flow like a story.

To sum it up I guess I could say that I craved a little more from Austin and Mabel and instead I got way to much of Alice and Nick.

About the Author
William Nicholson is a screenwriter, playwright, television writer, and novelist. In addition to his Academy Award–nominated screenplays for Shadowlands and Gladiator, he is the author of Motherland; several young adult and fantasy novels; and a sequence of contemporary adult novels set in England. He lives in Sussex, England.  

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  1. i'd gather you don't like Alice and Nick?

    1. No I didn't. Their story was boring and I couldn't relate to them at all.