amherst book coverReviewed by Meg Massey

Alice Dickinson travels to Amherst, the hometown of Emily Dickinson (no relation) in order to conduct research for her screenplay about the poet’s brother Austin and his affair with Mabel Todd, the wife of a professor. Caught up in the story of Mabel and Austin, Alice soon finds herself entrenched in an affair herself with irresistible professor Nick.

In Amherst, author William Nicholson takes readers on a journey through time, weaving the stories of Mabel Todd and Austin Dickinson with that of Alice and Nick. Austin is a man trapped in a loveless marriage, and in this tale, his reclusive sister Emily encourages him to pursue Mabel in order to find happiness. What follows is a love affair that stretches many years, defying the conventions of that age. To be honest, I felt that their romance consumed too much of the novel, and Emily, along with Alice and Nick, faded to the background all too often.

Perhaps the modern love story also faded for me because I couldn’t invest myself in it. I couldn’t bring myself to like Nick, a soon-to-be divorced philanderer that seemed to take advantage of Alice’s vulnerability and her obvious attraction to him.

Their connection was also strange; Nick was the former lover of the mother of one of Alice’s ex-boyfriends. To be honest, I’m not really sure why this bit was added, except for that it allowed the two women to compare notes about him later. The conclusion of their affair didn’t bring much satisfaction either.

What I did find satisfying was Mabel’s connection to Emily, a woman she never actually met in person. After Emily’s death, it was Mabel who took it upon herself to meticulously comb through and edit Emily’s poems, recognizing their genius and longing to share it the world.

For me, it’s difficult to find the real love story in the pages on this novel. While much of this novel fixates on the story of Mabel and Austin, the real story (for me, and what I hoped to read more of) was about Mabel and Emily. In the closing pages, Mabel speaks aloud, perhaps to Emily’s ghost, perhaps to herself, “Austin left me long ago, but you have never left me. Not for a single day.” Mabel finds respite from her own unhappiness in Emily’s poetry, and in the poet’s words she finds that her world is opened up and expanded. I only wish that the novel would have explored the relationship between these two women more. That would have made this book much more readable for me.

This book contains sexual content that is unsuitable for young readers.

Meg lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Ryan. Library professional by day, freelance writer by night, Meg writes about life, entertainment and everything in between.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.