Love and romance reside at the heart of British author William Nicholson's work, be it in his screenplays (Shadowlands) or in his prose fiction (Motherland). In his historical novel, Amherst, two secret love affairs--past and present--come together under the influence of poet, Emily Dickinson, who has a vivid impact on all their lives.
Nicholson threads the needle of his intriguing, well-plotted narrative with Alice Dickinson, a contemporary, 20-something, London copywriter whose shared last name with the poet draws her to Emily's work. Alice travels to Amherst, Ma., to research a screenplay she's writing about the real-life, 1880s love affair between Austin Dickinson, Emily's 50 year-old, unhappily married brother, and Mabel Loomis Todd, the 24 year-old wife of an Amherst College professor.
Once Alice arrives in the States, she boards in the home of Nick Crocker, a handsome, married, charismatic English Literature academic in his fifties. Alice's research into the mysteries of love, fidelity and passion is soon complicated when she and Nick begin an affair that ultimately parallels the intense complexity found in Austin and Mabel's relationship that was secretly consummated in the home that Emily Dickinson shared with her sister, Vinny.
The plotlines of these tender, revealing love stories are told via alternating chapters. Nicholson draws from historical texts and includes letters along with Dickinson's poems in order to fictionally recreate the long-standing affair between Austin and Mabel—and the significant role that Emily, an enigmatic spinster-recluse, played in their romance, as well as how Emily's ghost permeates the relationship between Alice and Nick.
Amherst by William Nicholson
Simon & Schuster, $26 Hardcover, 9781476740409, 304 pp
Publication Date: February 10, 2015