I received a proof copy of He Wants by Alison Moore from Lovereading for review. It will be published in August this year. I began reading with high expectations because I thought I’d like it from the publishers’ synopsis:
Lewis Sullivan, an RE teacher at a secondary school, is approaching retirement when he wonders for the first time whether he ought to have chosen a more dramatic career. He lives in a village in the Midlands, less than a mile from the house in which he grew up. He always imagined living by the sea. His grown-up daughter visits every day, bringing soup. He does not want soup. He frequents his second-favourite pub, where he can get half a shandy, a speciality sausage and a bit of company. When an old friend appears on the scene, Lewis finds his routine and comfortable life shaken up.
However, this synopsis is a bit misleading. Lewis is not approaching retirement – he has already retired. He is looking back over his life and thinking about all the things he had wanted/wants/ does not want. It’s a book about ageing and unfulfilled expectations. It jumps around mirroring Lewis thought processes as he remembers his childhood, his parents, his wife, his daughter and his friend Sydney.
He Wants is a short book (180 pages in the proof copy). Written in the present tense, it’s a bleak tale of a man whose life did not turn out as he expected or wanted. I don’t have to like the characters to enjoy reading a book, but despite the quality of writing, which is taut and effective in creating an atmosphere of unease and emptiness, I couldn’t take to this book. Lewis’s dissatisfaction with his life compared to how had imagined it would be was just too drab and unrelenting.
Lewis had wanted all sorts of fantastic things. The chapter headings indicate the things he wanted but never got, or the things he did not want and did get: he did not want soup or the sausages, he did not want the boy to be spoiled, he wanted to go to the moon, to live in Australia, to be seen, a time machine and a cup of tea and so on.
Sadly, it was not my cup of tea.
Alison Moore was shortlisted for the Man Book Prize in 2012 with her debut novel The Lighthouse, a book I haven’t read and may check just to see if it’s in the same vein as He Wants.