I like to think that I am pretty well read and though I do not keep totally up to date with modern authors and I am not exactly au fait with the Booker prize list, I pride myself on my bookish knowledge so when I am sent a book to read and review and I discover that the author has written 16 novels, two non fiction and 17 plays and I have never heard of him I feel rather ashamed. Such, sadly, is the case with Nigel Williams. However, my thanks to Corsair for offering me a copy of Unfaithfully Yours which I read and hugely enjoyed.
It is an epistolary novel, seem to be reading a few of those at the moment and, as you already know, I rather like this form of narrative as the reader is left to imagine the characters and it is all rather fun. I tend to cast them as though I was filming and it is rather distressing to admit how often George Clooney and Richard Armitage feature in these musings. Benedict Cumberbatch is a new addition to my Imaginary Rep Company too.
When I first started this book I thought it was witty and funny. And so it is. Elizabeth Price engages a private detective Roland Gibbons to follow her husband whom she suspects of having an affair. Or rather she wants to know who it is as her husband has been having an affair with somebody or other all their married life. Her husband, Gerald, is a successful barrister and, on the face of it, vulgar and loud and crassly insensitive.
Others in the playlist, for such it seems, are Mike Larner a retired BBC producer, a widower whose ghastly wife Pamela died in mysterious circumstancees, Sam Dimmock a bluff and hearty and boring dentist, Mary his wife, John Goldsmith a handsome and popular doctor and Barbara his wife who writes clever novels and despises him.
All of these purport to be friends, to be part of a set, but as letters fly backwards and forwards between them on different subjects and topics it is clear that nearly all of them loathe at least one or two members of their group and seething resentments and lust and love lurk beneath the surface. The revelations as they come are very cleverly and wittily done and the writing is marvellously crisp and polished. As the story commences and more and more bile rises to the surface and revelations are made, one wonders what is going to come next. The face shown to the world is not the real one. Take Gerald talking about his wife and his son:
"The wife has been a bit depressed of late. Maybe it's being married to me; but I suspect it might be something to do with the Conrad situation. I do wish he would get a job. Or at least look as if he's interested in finding one. She won't let me read him the riot act and I am forbidden to force his head into the toilet bowl in order to emphasize any points I want to make to the little bastard"
And then later on a letter from Gerald to Elizabeth to tell her he is leaving her:
"I am, I know, a bit of an oaf. People have often called me that to my face......I am trying to be a better person and in this letter I am trying for the first time in our marriage to be completely honest......I thought I was going to enjoy writing this letter but of course I haven't. I can't bear to write any more"
He is never going to be anything but a rather unconstituted male, and some of his letter is still pretty outspoken, but out of all the characters in the book I rather warmed to Gerald the most which means that Nigel Williams has made me succumb to his rather raffish charm as well.
By the time I had finished Unfaithfully Yours when everyone, and I do mean everyone, has been unfaithful to everyone else and Roland Gibbons has been caught in the general toils, I realised that really the book is rather sad and painful. None of these characters have been happy, none have been honest, none have faced up to how they really feel. In the end they do and there is a rather marvellously vitriolic exchange of letters between them all which is rather wince making to read. And then I realise that in the end, perhaps it is not so sad after all. By ridding themselves of the dislike and resentment each of the protagonists look as if they might find some happiness after all.Witty, funny, perceptive, clever, amusing, sad - this book is all of these things but best of all it is beautifully written and I am simply delighted to have discovered this writer. Rather late I admit but better late than never.
And Corsair have been even more generous to me and sent me the trilogy written by this author The Wimbledon Poisoner which they have just reissued. Just started the first one and I am hooked already.
I hope you will read Nigel Williams and not leave him undiscovered as long as I have done.