The Lovers of Amherst by William Nicholson

Review published on July 21, 2016.

I was hoping for more from this book. I have read and enjoyed other books by William Nicholson and I knew this one was about Emily Dickinson so was hoping to find out more about her. Her poetry does play a large part in the story but she is a minor shadowy figure.

There are two love stories. In 1881 Mabel Todd moved to Amherst with her husband and fell in love with Austin, an older married man who was a pillar of society and the brother of Emily Dickinson. In alternate chapters we have the fictional present day story of Alice who makes a short visit to Amherst to research a screenplay about Mabel and Austin.

The historical story is intriguing though I found it difficult to empathise with the characters’ rather self indulgent passion even though much seems to have been taken from their real letters. The affair between Alice and Nick, an older man who she meets in Amherst seems to be there to point out some of the parallels and so that they can have long discussions about Emily’s poetry. This felt very contrived and I couldn’t relate to them.

There are many quotations from Emily’s poetry which I found interesting and enlightening and I enjoyed Mabel’s story but the book didn’t live up to my expectations though it does succeed in making you want to know more about Emily. I can see members of a book group having very varied reactions and so it would certainly lead to much discussion.

Berwyn Peet 3/3

The Lovers of Amherst by William Nicholson
Quercus 9781848666504 pbk Jul 2016



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