William Nicholson is the writer of Shadowlands (both the stage play and the film) and also much of the script of the film Gladiator, as well as the Wind on Fire trilogy of children's books. His first novel for adults, The Society of Others, could be described as a British version of an American 'road' novel, full of weird characters, outlandish situations and liberal helpings of pop philosophy, but in my opinion lacking focus and ultimately a bit inconsequential.
His second novel, The Trial of True Love, loosely based on his own youth, is a far more structured and acute study of a little explored area: falling in love from the male point of view.
I have always considered myself a bit of an odd-ball where affairs of the heart are concerned, and assumed that little of the experiences of Bron (the book's central character) would apply to me. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I kept recognising myself at every turn, with a familiarity that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
What is it that a man sees in the object of his desire? What need in men does romantic love fill? Is it just a biological reflex, ultimately sexual, or a social construct, or a desire for some kind of ego validation, or a quest for the status that a beautiful partner confers, or all of this and more besides? Do we fall in love because we want to, or even need to; is it something we collude in, consciously or not, or is it something that happens to us, like falling down a hole? Is it different for women and for men? Do we fall in love with women as they really are, or must we reconstruct them first to our own specifications? Is it always an illusion with which we fall in love?
By the time you put the book down you feel that your understanding of what's going on in male/female interactions has been genuinely deepened. Not only is there an enormous amount of insight in Nicholson's story, its structure is extremely clever, with the central theme of illusion and unreality only dawning on us fully at the end.
This is the author of Shadowlands at his best, showing us something about ourselves which we are unaware of, but which we recognise instantly when it is pointed out to us. And doing it in a humorous, entertaining and engaging way, with a surprise ending that would do credit to any crime thriller. Buy it for somebody this Christmas, but read it yourself first.
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