Written by William Nicholson
Review by Edward James

“Summer, 1942. Kitty, an army driver stationed in Sussex, meets Ed, a Royal Marine commando, and Larry, a liaison officer with Combined Ops. She falls instantly in love with Ed, who falls in love with her. So does Larry.” The novel’s premise is immediately captivating. Nicholson’s credentials as screenwriter, playwright, television writer, and novelist are impeccable. I dove right in.

After the opening prologue, Motherland launches into a time of turmoil. Britain is struggling; Germany has the advantage. Nicholson’s rapid-fire dialogue, quick scene changes and mix of characters accentuate the tension of war. During the countdown to Dieppe, Larry and Ed meet Kitty.

Nicholson’s Dieppe scenes magnificently capture the chaos and futility of that senseless invasion attempt. Larry and Ed are profoundly affected by the experience. After Dieppe, Ed struggles to cope with war’s aftermath: Kitty is helpless to ease her husband’s despair, all the while “feeling how much she loves him, and how much it hurts.” Knowing he can’t have the woman he loves, Larry attempts to become an artist and when he fails, leaves for India to assist Lord Mountbatten, who is Viceroy to that country’s independence process. And at every turn, the love triangle chimes.

Structured in four parts, at times the novel feels like a play with long bits of dialogue, emotional pointers that mimic actors’ instructions, and descriptions that sound like stage directions: “Ed goes into the yard to empty his bladder. Rex shows up, in a subdued mood.” Nonetheless, Nicholson’s storytelling skills shine as Motherland compellingly explores the effects of war, what it means to be a good man, friendship, faith, and love in all its variations.