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Inner lives laid bare
on 8 September 2009
William Nicholson is a skilled writer. With this book he takes a variety of ordinary people and invokes what it is like to be in their skin. The stories are so well delivered and so intense in their feeling that this book is a remarkable reading experience.
Laura has received a letter from her first love, Nick, with whom she spent ten months as a young woman in her second year at university. But he broke their relationship off - he wasn't ready for the next step at that time, leaving Laura desolate. But Laura moved on eventually, though her experience left its scars. Now he wants to come back into her life. But she has changed. She has married Henry, a TV director and writer, and they have a son and daughter, Jack and Carrie.
In many ways, Nick and Laura's story is the least interesting, and sometimes dissolves into romantic cliché, but there are lots of more rewarding characters living in the same village - Liz, who has a young daughter, Alice, and is still in sexual thrall to her ex-husband; Alan Strachan, Alice and Jack's young teacher who writes plays but can't get them staged; the village rector who finds that he no longer believes in God but whose humility and serene patience is perhaps more honest and useful than any religious certainty; The inner lives of these and other people are explored even down to young Jack, who is under the spell of an older, charismatic friend, Toby, and Alice, who is being bullied. The result is a captivating novel that allows you to feel some of these anxieties from the inside. The reader is swept up in the motivations that emerge and even the least sympathetic of them is rendered with compassion and - yes - intensity. This is one of those novels that you can, for a time, live in. I found myself reluctant to reach the last page.