Unfaithfully Yours by Nigel Williams

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Unfaithfully Yours by Nigel Williams

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A social drama comedy with edge – this book of letters is definitely entertaining.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: July 2013
Publisher: Corsair
ISBN: 9781472106742

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When Nigel Williams first really burst on to the best-seller list, a couple of decades ago, it was with a book set in Wimbledon that really quite tickled a younger me – and my mother. But then he produced two more in the same series, and we soon decided he was a bit of a one-trick pony, and could never be sure how much of the trilogy we'd read, or be too eager to read more. Flash forward, and Williams has certainly branched out – his setting this time is Putney. Wimbledon Common is now Putney Heath, and so on. But here he provides an epistolatory novel – and if there's one kind of novel to make me prick up my ears it is one built from letters. It is the blatant two-and-fro timing of the narrative, and the succinctness that characters are formed with, that strike me as obvious benefits of such a book – and Unfaithfully Yours has those and many more.

This being a modern novel in letters everyone has to, at one time or another, say why they prefer a letter to an email or phone call. This being an English novel in letters everyone has to, at one time or another, say the summer weather is awful. And this being a novel in letters where everyone is intertwined and connected, the plot is a very relishable one, concerning someone asking for a private eye to investigate her husband's sex life, while the other woman involved asks advice regarding the affair from a newspaper 'agony uncle' who happens to be known to her in real life, and everyone concerned all used to holiday together years ago – including the woman who died, leaving a foul-mouthed recluse behind to bat other people's correspondence away.

Williams keeps the necessary snap going throughout, with many a variety in his comic timing, from single lines that are blatantly blasé such as the opening one to the private eye – I am writing to you because I think my husband may be having sex, to brilliant set-ups (the introduction of Ophelia) and running gags about David Attenborough. His characters are, despite my introduction, presented in a really broad manner, allowed by the familiarly blunt style in which many of the characters choose to denigrate the rest. Putney – itself the butt of many a jibe – comes across as a nightmare world of overweight middle-aged horrors, but then, to quote, people reveal themselves through their jokes. Don't you think?

Well, obviously not, in this instance, for it is the darkness that prevails in this book in the end. The death of the eighth member of the group is greeted as trivial by many of our narrators, but it’s not the only serious, edgy note this novel manages to contain. We are, after all, joking about infidelity, missed opportunities perhaps, horrendous middle-class characters definitely. I can see the balance between light and shade being the crux upon which your opinion of this book hangs – certainly, for me, the serious, blacker sections were too black to contain comedy, and were just too sincerely nasty to be seen as humorous.

Apart from those, however, we have what is really a clever breeze. While the letter-writers might have been differentiated a bit more – in voice, style, font, whatever – the book skims past as the characters write so eloquently in real-time, first-person, English-as-how-she-is-said-not-writ manner. The plotting is as smart as many of the jokes, so I perhaps highlight the fact I found less comedy at times too largely. It does make me think this is second class as opposed to a full first class, but this is still well worth receiving.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For more social satire writ in letters, we enjoyed Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker.

Buy Unfaithfully Yours by Nigel Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Unfaithfully Yours by Nigel Williams at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Unfaithfully Yours by Nigel Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Unfaithfully Yours by Nigel Williams at Amazon.com.