REVIEW: RICH AND MAD by William Nicholson

William Nicholson is well known and greatly respected for his fantasy trilogies THE WIND ON THE FIRE and THE NOBLE WARRIORS. Intriguing then, that he has turned his talents to the themes of ‘first love, first sex and everything in between’ in a contemporary setting...

Maddy Fisher has decided to fall in love. She’s determined not to wait for things to happen to her, she has resolved to make things happen for herself. It’s the beginning of the school year and she is taking control of her life. The first step is to find herself an object of affection, because even if it doesn’t work out it will be good practise. Enter handsome Joe Finegan...

Rich Ross is similarly preoccupied with the hunger to love and be loved. He has decided on a subject – Maddy’s beautiful and worldly, yet increasingly distant, friend Grace. Rich doesn’t travel in Grace’s circles (he is particularly intelligent and thoughtful and worse, he doesn’t own a mobile phone) so he enlists the help of Maddy as a go between. Rich’s affection is rejected but a friendship blooms between him and Maddy.

Perhaps that sounds a little predictable, but there is a great deal of humiliating unrequited love to be endured before any resolution may take place. And the novel is littered with a supporting cast that add drive to the story. These characters also allow Nicholson to explore issues of domestic violence and the complexities of both changing adolescent friendships and changing family relationships.

Nicholson captures the suspense of longing perfectly – it truly is like being transported to the moments of butterflies in the stomach in your own life. He conjures up a very powerful yet understated and unsentimental anticipation and suspense that must surely be the envy of writers far and wide. As well as that, he creates intelligent and likeable characters that the reader will relate to and care about. His insight is remarkable and well executed, and it makes the novel a very sophisticated package.

He explains in an article outlining his reason for writing the novel that:
‘Rich and Mad is my attempt to tell girls what boys are feeling, and to tell boys what girls are feeling - boys like the boy I once was. It’s my attempt to be truthful about sexual fears and longings. And it’s my attempt to convey the glory and the wonder I felt all those years ago.’

Click here to read more about Nicholson's intentions as he set about writing RICH AND MAD.

RICH AND MAD is an excellent addition to the small catalogue of novels that take the ‘sex in YA fiction’ debate up a notch. Perhaps partly because he writes it so convincingly – I have heard (from the brilliant Bernard Beckett) that he would certainly have more sex in his novels if only he could write it to the standard he expects! I recommend reading in conjunction with Emily Maguire’s YOUR SKIRT’S TOO SHORT: SEX POWER AND CHOICE.

To read the first chapter of RICH AND MAD (it will get you hooked) click here.

Leesa Lambert

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