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Motherland
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on 26 September 2017
Another great book in the series, I'm reading them slightly out of order and as said before it's not required
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 22 December 2012
William Nicholson moves away from the contemporary setting of his previous novels for his latest book: 'Motherland' which is mostly set during the 1940s and 1950s and focuses on the love triangle between the three main protagonists: Kitty, Ed and Larry.

During the Second World War, Kitty Teale, a very attractive young woman, meets two men: Ed Avenell, a charismatic but troubled commando in the Special Services, and his best friend, liaison officer in the Combined Ops, Larry Cornford. Both men fall for the lovely Kitty, but although she enjoys the company of the kind and good-natured Larry, she falls in love with the more handsome and exciting Ed, and the two marry just before both Ed and Larry are sent to Nazi occupied France in Operation Jubilee, the largest military assault since Dunkirk, commanded by Admiral Lord Mountbatten. The operation is a disaster and on the beach at Dieppe, whilst Larry is practically paralysed with fear, Ed's brave actions in saving dozens of wounded soldiers, wins him the Victoria Cross. A wounded Larry returns home safely to Kitty, but Ed is captured by the Germans and spends the rest of the war as a prisoner where he is mentally tortured. Larry cannot help feeling guilty and ashamed, for not only did he panic under fire and feared for his own life, whilst Ed saved others, he is now falling more deeply in love with Kitty. When Ed returns home at the end of the war, he cannot settle and, struggling with his inner demons, he turns away from Kitty and their toddler daughter, Pamela, to find solace in alcohol; Larry, meanwhile, returns to art school at the Camberwell College of Art where he is taught by William Coldstream, and tries to stifle his feelings for Kitty, firstly by having an affair with the wayward and amoral Nell and, later, with the beautiful, but sexually cold, Geraldine, whom he meets when he is in India with Mountbatten. (No spoilers - there is a lot more for prospective readers to discover in this novel, especially about how both Kitty and Larry cope with their longings and feelings).

Moving from London and East Sussex, to France, India, Jamaica and the USA, Nicholson's 'Motherland' follows the lives of three characters who are bound together through love, through loss and through the tragedy of war and its aftermath. Nicholson's depiction of the Dieppe landings is rather gripping and he writes movingly about love, about duty and about what it means to be good. Writing in a more philosophic frame of mind in this novel, Nicholson ruminates about religion, lack of religion, morality and the meaning of life and this story, therefore, has a more serious tone to it than his previous trilogy of novels: The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life;All the Hopeful Lovers and The Golden Hour. The author has researched the historical details of his novel well and he tells us in an afterword that he has relied in matters of historical fact and tone of voice, on his wife, the social historian, Virginia Nicholson, which, in part, explains the different feeling and scope of this novel. I found this a well-written, absorbing and far-reaching story; however, I do have to say that I did not find this book quite as convincing, pertinent and entertaining as Nicholson's novels set in contemporary England, dealing with the minutiae, the quiet desperations and the complexities of seemingly ordinary family life - which, I feel, is where the author's strength lies.

4 Stars.

Please Note: In addition to the trio of novels mentioned above, I would also recommend William Nicholson's: The Trial Of True Love
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on 21 January 2014
No spoilers in this review
I read an article in the Guardian interviewing the author a few days ago. I'd never even heard of him, but the article was spellbindingly interesting.
For this book there was a passage that earned him a 'bad sex award' and the article goes on to say

"Nicholson refused to play the good sport - although he did print up some Bad Socks award Christmas cards for his friends - and instead asserted the importance of dealing honestly with the subject and called for a Good Sex award. "It is not to do with just describing sex, it is to do with discussing our hopes and fears about something important. We have no idea if our sex lives are aberrant or not. We don't know whether we are undersexed or oversexed. People can actually benefit from these things being talked about more openly and truthfully."

I thought, ok, perfect, I'm going to check this guy out. So I went and got a copy of Motherland. A book with a chick-lit type cover (DO NOT let that put you off) about a love triangle between a woman and two men in WW2. I was only into it about 20 pages when I started to think. I absolutely love this. And it just got better and better.
The characterisation is simply astounding, you start to feel that you really know and care about these people and the way they communicate has none of the cliche of a lot of WW2 dramas we've been relentlessly exposed to, these are sentient flesh and blood people, of their own time, but timeless as well, aware that life is truly difficult to live well.

Rather than go on and on about the plot, you can read it yourself, I will just say that for me this is what fiction should be about, the human condition, about love and morality. It's really beautifully written in an unaffected and totally unpretentious style, in other words, there is no stylistic tricksy-ness, but that does not make the writing any less exquisite. Nicholson has a highly humane and consistent authorial voice.

I think it's destined to become a classic.

Now I will busy myself reading everything else he has written.
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on 23 January 2014
The novel is discursive - perhaps it could be no other, given the range of themes. The Dieppe raid; independence for India - occurring with terrible bloodshed, as though in a sort of trance; family business; artistic creativity - and its absence; the vulnerability and waywardness of love, the way it colours our lives - makes it difficult - enhances it.

The characters are well realised, many with a strand of Catholicism. In some ways it is two relatively minor characters that stay with me most vividly. Geraldine, sad, limited, imbued with life-denying notions of Catholic duty - a tragic woman; and Nell, vigorous, pagan, forthright, brave, living life as fully as she can.

A very good, involving read. Strongly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 1 April 2015
An ambitious novel and one that feels quite old fashioned in some ways: the sweep of the tale, the attempts to get to grips with 'big questions' such as religion, the merging of the political and the personal, the hanging on at the edges of the upper classes. I liked it. It's like a mixture of Brideshead Revisited and the Cazelet Chronicles except not quite as upper class as the former. Larry, the main protagonist is a sympathetic character who you feel for throughout the book. His adored Kitty never seems quite real though and this means you don't feel as much empathy for her. One thing I didn't like though was the setting of the story in the present day with the main story presented as something told to one character by another. This seemed really clumsy and totally unnecessary. Why not just set it firmly in the past? I've hovered between three and four stars because I did like it but at times it seemed to be a real effort to read as the story just didn't quite draw me in as much as I would have liked.
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VINE VOICEon 23 July 2014
Having loved The Secret Intensity, I was delighted to see this Nicholson novel as a Kindle daily deal and promptly snapped it up. While not quite living up to earlier novel, it is still an excellent read, providing that you're not given to bouts of depression, in which case it may aggravate them.

Initially it seems to be the story of beautiful Kitty, loved by every man she meets, and dashing Ed, the war hero; but really it is the story of Larry, ordinary decent bloke, who also loves Kitty and longs to spurn the family banana import business in favour of being a painter.

It begins in 1942 as the three meet when they are all stationed on the south coast, proceeds through the disastrous Dieppe raid (which was new to me and hard to read about as hundreds of young men were sacrificed to the vanity of their leaders), through the struggles of post war England and Larry's traumatic trip to India with Mountbatten to preside over independence and partition, concluding in 1950 with tragedy. There is a completely pointless but mercifully short framing device and some excruciating sex scenes that should have been up for the Literary Review's Bad Sex Award.

It's elegantly written (apart from those sex scenes) and Larry is a deeply sympathetic character whose trials and tribulations can provoke only compassion and, eventually, hope. The minor players are interesting, from Nell, the pretentious artist's model, via Geraldine the frigid wife; from Larry's loving and nurturing father to Pamela, the precocious but charming child.

I don't know if Nicholson is a Catholic but all the main characters are and an element of Catholic guilt and fear pervades the novel. It left me feeling a little sad but lingers in my mind even after the last page.
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on 12 March 2013
I love William Nicholson's writing, and in Motherland, he's done it again! Not only complex, likable characters, but a great story, and even though it was set in the Second World War, it felt fresh because we lived it through characters that we already felt we knew well, and that it was their unique experience. And I think he's a marvel, because he weaves the same characters into his books at different times in their lives, and with less or more of a central part in the plot. He's a genius if you ask me!
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on 12 February 2015
This is a breath of fresh air.
Pamela delights us and to be taken back to just before her birth is an elegant start to the lives of the main characters - wartime friends.
Their interactions become brought to life simply, gradually and then wound together.
The secret of the attraction of this book must simply be characterisation.
The players all so highly developed by W Nicholson it is as if he knows them all well.
Of course he does- they are his.
Not easy.
I can think of many authors -also known for war time fiction, that sell massively yet do not present such convincing personalities.
I live in Sussex where this book is set, what a relief not to have place names disguised.
I did not mean to read this book so quickly - though now I know there are several more to discover I'll slow down.
Its a novel. Contemporary. Suitable for adults and YA, and I would have happily read it as a child after finishing an Arthur Ransome.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 February 2013
A love triangle mainly set in 1940s and 1950s England concentrating on the emotional impact of the War on both those who went and those who were left behind. There's also a fairly strong Catholic faith element to this story - expect guilt and repression as well as love and loyalty.

William Nicholson's "Motherland" starts and concludes in the present day with Alice Dickinson travelling to France to meet her recently discovered grandmother, but the huge majority of the book concerns a love triangle between Kitty, Alice's great grandmother, an army driver in Sussex in 1942, Ed, a Royal Marine commando and his school friend Larry, a liaison officer with Combined Ops. The story spans the war, particularly Mountbatten's disastrous raid on Dieppe, and the post war years as Ed and Larry seek to overcome their war time experiences and the impact of these on Kitty and her relationship with these two men.

The story within a story works well enough to get us to the real story, but doesn't add a huge amount to the book. Alice doesn't really get much from this other than the unknown history of her family. As a set up, it's fine to get us to the past but it does mean that the ending is rather less powerful than if we had just ended in the 1950s.

This is the fourth of what Nicholson calls his "Sussex novels", along with "The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life", "All the Hopeful Lovers" and "The Golden Hour". While each of these are entirely stand alone books, Nicholson offers a little treat to avid readers of his books with glimpses of some of the characters and their pasts seen throughout the oeuvre. If you haven't read any of the others yet, you won't miss anything, but if you have, it's a nice treat to be reminded of locations and families that you have encountered elsewhere. It also means that there is no need to read them in any particular order.

Where, for me, Nicholson excels is in his dialogue. This is not too surprising as his credits include screenwriting for both "Gladiator" and "Shadowlands". It does mean that the war section though, which is a relatively small yet pivotal part of the book, lacks the visceral quality that other authors such as Sebastian Faulks achieve and this means that while it is clearly well researched and accurate, you never really feel the devastating impact that it had on Ed in particular.

I didn't particularly warm to any of the three main leads however. Many of Nicholson's characters are repressed and quite sad. Much of the story relates to Larry, who is rather the gooseberry in the love triangle. I often found myself more interested in some of the more minor characters, particularly the rather wonderful Louisa Holland, a friend of Kitty's from her driving days. She's such a force of nature that she seems somewhat underwritten in this story.

While it might not be my favourite of Nicholson's books to date, he is always highly readable and tells a good story with interesting insight into human traits. Here he gets to play with love, loyalty, betrayal, faith and doubt. Every now and then, he also offers up a thought of a view that is a new way to look at things even though for much of the book he's dealing with fairly well trodden situations. For me though, there was just too much of a gap between the experiences of Kitty and the impact on Pamela, (Alice's grandmother) and therefore on Alice herself. It's this "mise en scene" aspect that ultimately had me yearning for more connection to the main narrative. For all that, the story is addictive and for the most part enthralling though.
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on 27 April 2013
The 'love story' was a bit unoriginal, but the story of the Dieppe raid was fascinating, especially when I googled it, and realised how cleverly fact had been incorporated into the fictional characters.
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