Review: He Wants – Alison Moore

He Wants Alison Moore review

He Wants – Alison Moore
Salt, 2014
Image source

Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse is one of my favourite books, so when I heard that Moore’s new book would be published in August, I bought a copy of it as soon as I could.

He Wants is the deceptively simple story of Lewis, a retired RE teacher who has lived in the same village all his life, even though he’s long dreamed of living by the sea. His grown up daughter brings him soup every day, although he would prefer pizza or ‘the excellent beef Wellington he had in a restaurant once’. He wonders whether he should have chosen a more exciting subject to teach – perhaps chemistry instead of RE. A novel that expertly explores the themes of loneliness, regret, and missed opportunities, He Wants shows Lewis’ daily routine and habits disturbed when his childhood friend Sydney arrives.

What I loved most about The Lighthouse was Moore’s prose and this hasn’t changed in her second novel – the prose is taut, sparse, and well-crafted, with a subtle wit which adds humour to the sometimes haunting quality of the novel. There’s an assurance to the prose; I feel safe in Moore’s hands when reading as she clearly knows what she is doing. Every sentence and paragraph carries the feeling that it is important and has a role to play. For example, the act of Lewis recounting memories plays a large role in the novel and while these tales may be meandering as they move backwards and forwards in time and from subject to subject, it never feels as if these meditations are surplus – they have a purpose and we need to remember them; Moore has put them there for a reason. Moore’s control in the novel is seen elsewhere, too. While the novel’s plot is seemingly simple, it’s actually multi-layered and complex, and she is in complete control of each strand, slowly and surely weaving each throughout the novel before expertly bringing them together.

There’s a wonderful attention to detail throughout – Moore is astute, making precise observations which often add some wry humour and wit, and instantly conjure a character or scene. She has an excellent command of language and punctuation, using both to great effect, making the novel an absolute pleasure to read.

For such a slim novel (it runs to 180 pages) it explores a variety of themes which are woven throughout the multiple strands of the book. Loneliness, regret, desire, and missed opportunities are the main focus, as well as the complexities of friendship and family ties. Some of these themes are suggested too strongly and too heavy-handedly at times – Moore shows such confidence elsewhere that it seems a shame that she feels a need to spell out some of the themes that we are already aware of thanks to what has been before or subtle hints elsewhere. It is when the themes are explored more delicately, such as the desire which subtly simmers under the prose and dialogue throughout the novel, which is most effective.

With this book I did something I very rarely do, or maybe even have never done before – I reread it as soon as I finished. Part of my reason was that when I read the latter chapters, I was reading on a busy train and I was tired – I felt as if I missed things and that my reading hadn’t done the book justice. The other reason was simply that this book is very good.

I think I almost enjoyed it more the second time – stories linked together better, I understood more, the book’s brilliance was clearer. In my second reading, I noticed those subtle hints that I hadn’t realised the significance of or had missed before and which, once noticed, make this book truly wonderful. I think this book needs and deserves a reread: it has been written carefully but confidently and warrants a careful reading. I can see myself rereading it many more times, each time – like my last reread – noticing those little things that I previously missed but which make this book brilliant.

Alison Moore’s He Wants is an assured and confident second novel which deserves to be reread to fully appreciate its complexities. With sparse prose, astute descriptions, and subtle humour, Moore has cemented herself as one of my favourite authors with He Wants.

Have you read He Wants? What did you think?


14 thoughts on “Review: He Wants – Alison Moore

  1. It sounds like this little book holds a lot within its pages. I haven’t read any of this author’s work yet however you’ve definitely left me wanting to – a reread just after reading, it sounds like a must read to me! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Gemma.

    • I’m glad my review has left you wanting to read Alison Moore’s books – as you can hopefully tell, I highly recommend them! Would love to know what you think if you do get a chance to read them 🙂

  2. Very interesting review, Gemma. I’ve been in two minds as to whether to read She Wants; on the one hand I’ve heard very good things about it (and your review supports this view) but on the other, I had mixed feelings about The Lighthouse. I could see all the skill and control you describe in Moore’s prose, the careful plotting and pulling together of the threads, but I felt the symbolism was somewhat heavy-handed – a book I admired rather than loved. So, it’s interesting to see you feel some of the themes weigh a little heavily in She Wants (and for that reason I think I’ll probably pass on this one).

    Thanks for the review as it has given me a good feel for the book.

  3. Cracking review Gemma. I love the way you describe the quality of the prose – this is such an important part of judging how well a particular book will play with readers, yet so often ignored by reviewers. I think getting this bit right is the hardest part of reviewing – conveying setting and synposis, pace and genre etc is easy in comparison. But judging quality needs insight and bravery (especially if you didn’t like it!)

  4. Moore is a writer I have yet to read although she’s long been on the ‘must pick up soon’ list. I’m interested though in what you have to say about re-reading. I know a lot of people never re-read but having been in a job where it was essential that I knew a text very well indeed I think it has a great deal to recommend it as a practice. However good a reader someone is I still think that uppermost in their mind the first time through is the plot and that the finer aspects of the writer’s craft only really become apparent when you don’t have to give at least part of your attention to what is coming next. In my experience if a book doesn’t benefit from a re-read it probably wasn’t worth giving much time to in the first place.

    • I hope you get a chance to pick up one of her books soon – I’d highly recommend them!

      That’s really interesting Alex and I completely agree, particularly in regards to this book. I felt that, because I knew what happened and what was coming, I could pay closer attention to those subtle hints that I’d missed the first time. Rereading is something that I wish I did more often and recently I’ve been thinking of making an effort to do it more often!

  5. Pingback: A Year in Books: 2014 | The Perfectionist Pen

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