Reviews|

He Wants by Alison Moore

20th Aug 2014

★★★★
Alison Moore He Wants
Like her first novel The Lighthouse, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012, Alison Moore’s He Wants is a novel that gets under your skin.

The anti-hero of He Wants is Lewis Sullivan, a widower who lives in a village in the Midlands, close to the house in which he grew up. His life has not been dramatic and it continues to go on quietly — Lewis wondering what it is that he does and doesn’t want — until an old school friend, Sydney, turns up.

Superficially, not a lot happens in the novel; Lewis’s adult daughter, Ruth, brings Lewis soup at the start of the day though Lewis doesn’t want soup.

Lewis checks his emails and then walks to his second-favourite pub for lunch. When he gets home he discovers Sydney sitting in his kitchen. Sydney then takes Lewis to the health centre, for a doctor’s appointment, and they go on to visit Lewis’s father, Lawrence (named after D.H. Lawrence) who lives in the local care home.

Lawrence, a born-again Christian, does not know what he wants either. He swears and says “oh” a lot, wondering what activity will occur today. We get to know Lewis through his memories, and through his father’s memories:

“They would come home from their rambles and cover the kitchen table with fistfuls of wilting wild flowers and jars containing creatures that Lewis always hoped — when they looked through his father’s books — would prove to be something rare, but he was always disappointed. They once caught a snake but it was only a grass snake. He wanted to go to the jungle. He wanted to travel to the North Pole. He wanted to fly to the moon.”

He Wants, ultimately, is about regret. When Lewis and Sydney arrive at Lawrence’s care home they are accosted by one of the elderly residents. She grabs at them, wishing to impart wisdom; “You don’t regret what you’ve done,” she says. “You’ll regret what you haven’t done.”By the end of the book it is clear that an awful lot has happened to Lewis. He Wants, ultimately, is about regret. When Lewis and Sydney arrive at Lawrence’s care home they are accosted by one of the elderly residents.

She grabs at them, wishing to impart wisdom; “You don’t regret what you’ve done,” she says. “You’ll regret what you haven’t done.”

It’s a powerful reminder. Regret, as a theme, runs throughout the book, and Alison Moore deftly weaves it in and out of the narrative, prompting us to ask difficult questions of ourselves.

She entices us to read more, to want more. Lewis appears to have regretted what he hasn’t done, but his father, Lawrence, regrets what he has done, writing remorseful letters to his Uncle Ted every week.

Like a skilled watercolour painter, she manages to drop in just the right colour, in just the right amount, at just the right moment, to produce a picture of one person’s life that is fascinating, fluid, and masterful.

Alison Moore’s skill as a writer permeates He Wants. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how she creates such compelling (though often unlikeable) characters, turning their everyday doings into a page-turning story, the atmosphere quietly unsettling, yet it is clear that Moore has a talent for turning the everyday into something much more.

by Marija Smits