Review: The Englishman by Nina Lewis
Anna has landed her dream job as an Assistant Professor of English literature at a prestigious college in the South. Instead of charging ahead with her career, however, she is confronted by hurdles, pitfalls and mysteries. Why does no one restrain the demented hoarder who secretly uses her office as his private storeroom? Who is responsible for her sudden loss in salary? What is behind the vandalism in her department? Is it a personal attack against her irreverent and somewhat unconventional teaching style?
Professor Giles Cleveland is supposed to mentor her in all this, but he’s arrogant, sardonic, condescending, disconcertingly attractive and – Anna keeps reminding herself as the temptation to start a kamikaze affair with him becomes overwhelming – absolutely out of bounds. Anna and Giles grow increasingly reckless and it is only a matter of time before they will be caught and Anna’s career will crash and burn. But when the crash comes, it’s worse than Anna imagined. And far better than she could have dreamed.
I’ve just finished The Englishman by Nina Lewis. I think the thing that is most important to share about this book is that I’m mainly talking to my fellow Lover, Karen, about why I liked it. I liked it because of how it was written. I liked it because the story was a bit different from what I’ve read recently. I liked it because it’s actually contemporary fiction rather than romance. Please, don’t gasp or hit the back button just yet. Let me explain why understanding what this book actually is made me enjoy it.
The Englishman, if you haven’t already read the blurb, is about Dr. Anna Lieberman who moves to Virginia to pursue a tenure track career as a professor of English at the prestigious and private Androssan University. While there, she falls for a man she cannot have; her mentor, Professor Giles Cleveland. Having a relationship with Giles would not only be detrimental to her career, but would also make her “the woman that has sex with her coworkers to try to get ahead.” Not a good label for a professional. The story isn’t just about that. Scandal lurks around every corner of the Gothic university. Anna finds herself in the middle of scandals.
While Anna tries to find the motives and suspects for not only the strange incidents that happen in her department and the rape investigation, I was right along with her. She received clues from speaking with other characters without even knowing it and her observations of character actions led her to identify suspects without pulling an Eddard Stark and alerting the suspect that you were onto them (I’ll save that rant for another day). One of my favorite things about this book is figuring people out. Do they know something they haven’t yet shared with Anna? Are they hiding something sinister? If you’ve read any of my past reviews, you know that being able to interactively read is what excites me about reading.
On top of this bubble of intrigue at the University, Anna, the New Yorker has chosen to live in a cottage on a tomato farm. The family that lives there is “traditional” Southern American complete with fried chicken, church on Sunday’s, and generations living under the same roof. Small town gossip is politics. What you do and with whom you do it is as important as what you say outright. Anna seems to be the foil of this family. She’s a vegetarian, doesn’t go to church on Sunday’s because she is Jewish, and lives alone and away from her family in a cottage. While she may have chosen her new residence because of it’s beauty and bucolic landscape, it is not an escape from the drama she sees every day at work. It is nice to see how Anna interacts outside of her bubble of academia. She finds the family fascinating and frustrating from time to time.
The biggest scandal in Anna’s life with the one that is explored throughout the book, but is fully developed in the second half. Anna is attracted to her silver haired, green eyed, professional mentor, Giles Cleveland. He represents what she wants; he is what she wants. Giles is her superior and her equal. Anna is able to speak with him in her own language and reference books and poetry without having to feel that she must speak plainly for others to understand. Anna is in love with England and the English demeanor; the polite yet blunt way of expressing oneself. She reads his body language and those smiles he tries to hide from her and knows that he feels the same way she does. The dance they engage in reminds me of Maddy and David from Moonlighting for those who are old enough to remember that show. Sexual tension and desire reach a pinnacle when they take the leap. Oh, what a leap it is.
There is something so simple and so real about how Lewis wrote their first sexual encounter and those that followed. It’s not over the top yet it’s riveting. The emotion from Anna is so honest that my heart beats as fast as hers when she first shares a bed with Giles. I shared her sense of “I can’t believe this is happening” as well. Anna spends so much of the book telling herself that pursuing Giles or giving in to what she’s been feeling in her heart is wrong, that when it happens you are are scared and excited as she is. It feels so right and you are afraid for what it will feel like when the action is over and the gravity of the situation comes back to you. Everything is safe and hidden in the dark, but it’s under the brilliance of the sun that you can see all of the mistakes you’ve made. If the spotlight is shown on the improper relationship between Anna and Giles, will her life that she has spent so much time to build be ruined?
There are a few more points of why I loved this book. The main character is Jewish. I’m not Jewish, but I love it when main characters are diverse. It opens a new world to readers and sends the message that romance doesn’t just happen to the cookie cutter characters. Nina Lewis’s style of writing is delicious. I don’t know of another way to put it. It’s meaty, it’s eloquent, and it does not dumb down the reader. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t learn new words, but what good is a book if you don’t learn something new from it? I loved that fact that Anna’s life did not revolve entirely around Giles. Her every waking moment was not spent thinking of Giles Cleveland. She interacted with others and she built a life that was her own. A romance with Giles is an integral part of Anna’s story, but it does not define who she is as a character.
What I didn’t like was that the bitch in the book was named Amanda. For the record, we are not all bitches. Because this story was written in first person, it was harder to get the element of undying love from Giles. I knew it was there, but we had to wait for him to explicitly say it or go off of Anna’s thoughts. I just wish I knew what Giles was thinking from time to time.
In short, if you read this as contemporary fiction with a bit of romance, you won’t be disappointed. If you are looking for the typical romance book formula, it may not be for you. However, expand your library and give it a shot!
About Nina Lewis:
Nina Lewis wrote her first story when she was nine years old, a drama of love and jealousy set in a circus. Her best friend and she performed it to themselves over and over again, for ever changing the dialogue, conflicts and endings. It strikes her as ironically appropriate that her first published novel is set on a college campus – the habitat of many a strange, loveable or fierce creature. When she isn’t busy training animals to jump through the hoops of college education, Nina is knee-deep in her second novel, which is set in England during the French Revolution – historical romance being her favourite genre of fiction.
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