But Alison Moore is too sophisticated a writer to churn out a formulaic quest story. He Wants is populated by people who singularly fail to pursue their desires, or even to know what they are. Lawrence, an elderly resident of a nursing home, eagerly accepts the staff’s offers of tea, even when he already has one going cold on his lap. Lewis, his son, a retired RE teacher, eats the soup he does not want that is delivered each day by his daughter. Sydney, the childhood friend who mysteriously disappeared, wants to meet Lewis’s daughter but Barry Bolton gets in the way. Yet, despite their passivity, the reader can’t help rooting for these characters as it gradually dawns on us how, for most of his adult life, Lewis has wanted something he could never bear to acknowledge.
There are pictures hanging on the walls – small watercolours of boats in harbours, of woodland in the autumn, of setting suns. There is no modern art, nothing that, like a Rorschach image, might be open to interpretation (p71-72).
He Wants is a funny, touching, life-affirming novel about desire and the fear of the emptiness that lurks behind that desire that, according to some psychoanalytic models, lies at the heart of the human condition. I want you to read it. I want to read it again.
He Wants is published by Salt on 15 August 2014. Thanks to Jen for my proof copy. For more about Alison Moore’s writing, see my Q&A with the author regarding her Man Booker Prize-shortlisted debut, The Lighthouse. You might also enjoy this early review of He Wants by Rachel Cusk in the Guardian newspaper, although it does reveal a little more of the plot.
Having written my review a few weeks ago, I was about to post it when I saw that the latest prompt for the flash fiction challenge I’ve been following is on character motivation and, especially when this leaflet popped through the letterbox, I couldn’t resist tagging mine on here:
She wants cheesecake and a chocolate fountain but she can’t risk popping the button on her best black skirt. She wanted rosewood but her sister went for cardboard they could decorate themselves. She wants Abide With Me but her sister can’t abide it. She doesn’t want to argue, not here, with their mother at rest between them. Reluctantly, she takes a red felt tip and draws a heart, spells out MUM inside it in green.
She wants to be born again into a different family, a different species, even. She rather fancies coming back as a unicorn next time.
Apologies for the bizarre ending: unicorns have become something of a theme in many of our efforts at micro-fiction. But they’re not compulsory, so if you’re interested, you’ve got till next Tuesday to join in the flash fiction challenge and, even if you don’t, it’s worth reading Charli’s wonderful words on digging deep to discover her own characters’ motivation. But before you get lost in the profusion of links, please go to the comments box to share your reflections on my post.
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