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The History of Us

Philip Leslie

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Legend Press Ltd

Published : 2009

Copyright : Philip Leslie 2009

ISBN-10 : PB 1-906558-10-8
ISBN-13 : PB 978-1-906558-10-9

Publisher's Write-Up

The History of Us is a beautiful exploration of love and obsession, based on the stories of a group of friends growing up in Norfolk and told in reflection focused on the incredibly close but conversely fractious relationship of the two central characters. Told in three parts, The History of Us, explores the relationships between the two and a close friend, bonded by love, but also by a single tragic moment in their shared lives. As the book unfolds, we hear many whispers, which shift our understanding of that tragic day, and ultimately, of course, our perceptions of the characters, and theirs of each other. Although we are offered a kind of resolution in the final pages, there remains a sense of ambivalence and unease that disturbs.

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Pamela (311209) Rating (8/10)

Review by Pamela
Rating 8/10
The cover suggests a romantic novel about art, and while there is a good deal of romantic love in this story of troubled teens and the consequences of deception, the emphasis is on dark obsession. The main bulk of the book is set around 1980. James, about to head off to drama school, loves his lifelong friend and neighbour Alison, who is off to Oxford. Wilson also loves Alison and spends the summer before he leaves for college painting her. Alison chooses Wilson, concealing from him a whole other life.

Twenty years on, after a tragic event, Alison continues to exert a powerful influence on the two. James, now playing an amorous TV detective, has little existence away from the studio set, while Wilson's art, though acclaimed, has developed very little from its precocious beginnings.

There are three main sections headed James, Alison and Wilson. Part One is puzzling until you realise that the 1980 scenes are framed by dialogue-only interjections in the present day. Leslie's writing style here is rich with assonance and alliteration and successfully blends realistic utterance with poetry, simultaneously teasing the reader with a non-linear time sequence that reveals the tragedy to its fullest. Part Two is told from Wilson's point of view in the form of letters sent from a rehab clinic. The full extent of his Vertigo-like obsession with Alison is discovered. The language here is everyday, ripe with jokes and innuendo. Part Three consists of extracts of Alison's diary covering the period 1979-1981. It is here that we learn the nature of her deception and the complicated life she leads. Her style is humorous and cynical and always self-aware; cringe-makingly accurate, for those of us who kept diaries during this period of our lives. This is the Alison kept hidden from James. And this novel is all about concealing things. It is no accident that James plays a detective, or that Wilson's best paintings are life paintings in which the models are partially clothed.

The History of Us is not an easy book to categorise. On the one hand it is adult and literary, on the other, with minor edits it could pass as a complex Young Adult read. While the emphasis on relationships will appeal to many women readers, some may be bothered by hyper-intelligent Alison's downward trajectory at Oxford. Whatever kind of book it is, it is not easy to forget. The characters are fully three-dimensional and immensely likeable, the pace pleasingly swift, the Norfolk setting meticulously and lovingly described. It will come as no surprise to learn this was shortlisted in the fiction section of the 2009 East Anglian Book of the Year Award. In short, unusual and stimulating, witty and occasionally very, very sad.
Pamela (31st December 2009)

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