A vocal advocate for his debut novel, I was pleased when John Nicholl offered me the chance to read his follow-up by direct invitation. In this novel, the focus is primarily on Cynthia Galbraith (Jones), who now sits in prison for the murder of her husband. Nicholl splits the narrative between Cynthia’s direct accounts of time in prison with a memoir of her life and the years she and Dr. David Galbraith lived together. While Cynthia’s life seemed blissfully simplistic, she had her beloved Steven to fill her time. After Steven is killed in a freak auto accident, Cynthia is approached by a university lecturer (Galbraith) to take up studies in psychology, rather than her intended focus on law. Dr. Galbraith uses his penchant for persuasion to lure Cynthia away from her family while convincing her parents that he can offer her the best educational opportunities possible. Galbraith lays out his academic plan for Cynthia with isolation as its key tenet. This strict academic regimen proves foreboding, as the doctor soon dictates Cynthia’s every move and keeps her feeling downtrodden. Readers familiar with the debut novel will have seen the degree to which Cynthia was mentally and physically enslaved, down to being verbally abused for incorrect minutiae, which only goes to foster Dr. Galbraith’s ultimate control over all aspects of this young woman’s life. A pregnancy with no recollected conception, degradation at every turn, and elusive behaviour by her husband haunt Cynthia for a period, which is only worsened when Galbraith marries her and threatens to have his wife and daughter separated by social services. As the narrative progresses, the reader sees the turning point that sends the doctor’s secret life into a spiral and Cynthia’s brave move to save a boy from her husband’s clutches. With an interesting ending that allows Nicholl to update his reading base for whom WHITE was a stunning piece, the novel provides some insight and quasi-justification for Cynthia’s behaviour that seemed scatterbrained in the debut novel. Not to be dismissed by fans and a great follow-up for those who are just hearing about this talented writer.
After being stunned with the superior writing style and content of WHITE IS THE COLDEST COLOUR, I was unsure how a novel that set the threshold so high could be topped or equalled. I could not help heading into the reading project with some degree of scepticism and mild trepidation. As I started to read, I was left wondering if this subsequent novel, told solely in the first-person view of Cynthia Galbraith, would fall utterly short of its predecessor. The narrative is jilted, the sentiments less passionately expressed and the perspective offers only those analytical views held by Cynthia herself, all of which began to grate on me in the early chapters. The stories (both prison and Cynthia’s youth) seemed to drag, offering the reader less on which to grasp that I would have hoped. However, as the story continued and David Galbraith’s evil nature continued to develop, I had a reading epiphany. Nicholl wanted the reader to feel this discomfort and lack of connection, as the story is told from the perspective of a woman so broken and devoid of confidence in herself that it cannot hold water to the daring tale in WHITE. When I took that mental shift, I could not help but find new connections to the writing, from its short prison-based chapters to the slow and agonising vignettes of abuse Cynthia suffered. While the key moments in Galbraith’s paedophila ring come to pass and crash to the ground in a few short chapters, Nicholl offers Cynthia’s brief revelation, as well as some closure in her prison storyline. A decent second novel in this series, which leaves other avenues open for exploration.
Kudos Mr. Nicholl for this insightful piece. I wonder if you will continue with the theme, but distance yourself from this specific case, in order to create more powerful narratives that your debut introduced.