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“Motherland,” William Nicholson

(If you have spoiler-y, giddy things to say about “Downton Abbey,” this is your comment thread, because we briefly reference Downton and WHY NOT? Matthew is such a stodgy stodge, and he lost his jawline again this season.)

FIRST WEEK OF DUTIFUL PHYSICAL BOOK READING DONE. And, really, quite a pleasant start, I must say. I made a gin and tonic and handed the baby my iPhone and read the whole thing without looking on Wikipedia once. (You should not give your baby your iPhone all the time, but if you make it a major treat once a month, you can absolutely buy yourself five minutes to make a gin and tonic and drink it.)

It did not totally add up to the promise of the first hundred pages, but, seriously, nothing ever does, right? It’s about the nature of the universe, what can you do?

Anyway, here are some things about this nice book.


1. EMOTION. Swelling emotion! He wrote the screenplay for “Gladiator,” so just imagine how you felt when there was all that waving wheat or grass or whatever and Russell Crowe was thinking about his dead family. It’s like that. I cried a lot. There’s some beautiful writing about love, and also about trying to talk about mental illness, I think, before there was any real cultural understanding or even vocabulary for it. “I have a great sadness,” etc. I think the press materials cocked that up a bit, too. The book is being presented as “two men love one woman, one is hot and a hero, the other is just a maaaaan, but heroes are not the best husbands!” and that is some nonsense. The book is way more interesting, because it is about GOOD PEOPLE DOING THEIR BEST. Sometimes people are drowning.

2. Really, really great war writing about Dieppe and Mountbatten. You may not know a lot about Dieppe, unless you are Canadian, because Dieppe was this epic shitshow in which a bunch of Canadians essentially did a dry-run of D-Day two years early, except it was terribly planned by the British (“oh, we have all these Canadians who haven’t had anything to do yet, let’s take them for a spin”) and everyone was just mercilessly gunned down on the beach in broad daylight and died cursing whatever idiots thought it was a good plan. But, um, they learned a lot from that, and then there was eventually Normandy. You are welcome. No trouble at all.

3. Okay, though, there is a character who is a total Austerity Britain Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and it’s okay, because it’s really kind of funny. Her name is Nell. You’ll be into it.

4. The men are so well done. I think? I’m not a man. For all I know, they’re all secretly reptilians using us for our eggs and this is just more propaganda designed to hide that from the women of the world. LEON? IS IT TRUE? Kitty, our heroine, is less so, but, honestly, I think Nicholson really tried, so, thanks. Really! I mean it. I think he makes a genuine effort to make her a person. He definitely screwed up with Geraldine, though. There are about six characters who are EXACTLY FROM DOWNTON ABBEY, and Geraldine is totally a Lavinia. Louisa is Edith. George is Sir Anthony. And so on.

5. It does, ultimately, become super Brideshead-y. It does. Or Graham Greene-y. And the ending is a little tidy and aggravating. I’m on the fence about the framing device. But it was a great ride, and I anticipate it will be a Major Motion Picture.

You can buy it here, eventually. Or fly to the United Kingdom now, whatever. I understand they are no longer rationing butter.


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