William Nicholson explores the complicated psyches of people whose loneliness, hurt, petty frustrations and desires for artistic success echo outward
while the woods, fields and sky of the bucolic Sussex countryside resemble no more than fragments. In this touching tale, lives are defined by cautious striving to reconnect, whether it be through sexuality, passion or love.
At their home in the village of Edenfield, Henry, a documentary filmmaker lives with his wife, Laura, in a fairly tranquil upper-middle class life, the extent to which Laura’s daddy’s money subsidizes their privileged existence. But when Laura receives a letter from her old boyfriend Nick Crocker, she begins to feel the pangs of old feelings and the quick stabs of love that for so long have been hidden. Nick - just flown in from California - wants to meet and reconnect with Laura, perhaps have supper with her family.
Laura is sure that Henry won’t mind; there doesn't seem to be anything urgent in his idle curiosity, yet she's touched and also a bit irritated that Nick has changed so little. For years Laura's emotions have been dictated by the contents of a sealed envelope. Lying within the envelope's delicate folds lies a thin, hard ribbon
- a strip of four photo-booth pictures - and a short note in Nick’s handwriting,
unleashing in Laura the burden of memories so long held in storage.
Laura recalls with excitement her former lover whose voice once made her tremble. Meanwhile, though no fault of his own, Henry realizes he’s not living the life he was meant to live. An "almost adulterer," Henry realizes that for so many years he's been constrained by decency and habit where his desire for other women has remained totally concealed.
Shaping his story around the chaos of Nick’s return, the author presents Henry and Laura in full-blown mid-life crisis. Lusting after what is false, near and desirable, the novel is imbued with a particular brand of pathos as other frustrated characters appear. The gorgeous landscapes of the Sussex Downs and the hoof-pocked paths of the wide Welsh hills form a lovely backdrop to a plot that moves between the present and the past. At nineteen, Laura’s first kisses with Nick make her shiver with delicious and painful anxiety, but only time and perhaps a measure of understanding can break though her dense walls of anger, tension and guilt.
The author’s contemporary social themes reflect the trials and tribulations of modern domestic life. Most memorable are his observations of the gradual decline in farm revenues and the disappearance of the traditionally-minded farm workers who are being displaced by the economic power of commuters and tourists in a landscape that seems to be perpetually under a state of siege.