Saturday 7 February 2015

Amherst by William Nicholson

Amherst by William Nicholson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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.


This is a book I have wanted to read for some time now and I can say that in the beginning of the book I had hoped that this would be a really wonderful passionate romantic book that I would love. It didn't turn out that way. I liked the book, but I didn't love it. I just couldn't really get that invested in either of the love stories in the book. Both Austin and Maud and Alice and Nick's relationship just didn't work on a deep level for me. It didn't help either that I just couldn't get that invested in Emily Dickinson's poems either, a big part of the book's story. Maud was the one that edited and got the poems published after Emily's death and Alice is researching Austin's life and there are a lot of quotations of Emily's poems in this book, but I just don't really enjoy them very much.

So, in the end, this book was not as grand as I had hoped it to be, it was an enjoyable reading, especially in the beginning and I liked the ending. I found Williams Nicholson's writing style quite pleasing and wouldn't mind reading more books by him. But I will stay clear of Emily Dickinson, at least for now...

Thank you Edelweiss for providing me with a free copy for an honest review!

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