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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Hatchett and Lycett

Nigel Williams

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To purchase Hatchett and Lycett

Title: Hatchett and Lycett
Author: Nigel Williams
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002
Length: 423 pages
Availability: Hatchett and Lycett - UK
. Hatchett and Lycett - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good, engaging read

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph B- 6/4/2002 Max Davidson
The Guardian . 30/3/2002 Alex Clark
The Guardian . 21/6/2003 Isobel Montgomery
The Independent B 27/4/2002 Peter Guttridge
The Independent . 30/5/2003 .
New Statesman . 15/4/2002 Hugo Barnacle
The Spectator . 13/4/2002 Alan Wall
The Times A- 10/4/2002 Marcel Berlins
TLS B 19/4/2002 Michael Caines

  Review Consensus:

  Some fine touches but tries to do too much

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)he plot does not so much thicken as curdle. (...) When a spot of potted history of the atom bomb is thrown into the stew, the stomach revolts at the richness of the fare on offer. The over-elaboration is a pity because, as ever with Williams, there is some sublime fooling along the way. (...) (An) agreeable, but ultimately unsatisfactory novel." - Max Davidson, Daily Telegraph

  • "Williams's narrative proceeds, as one of his characters might say, at a cracking pace. For the most part, the tone is of an unremittingly jolly period farce, although there are moments of genuine darkness that alert the reader to the writer's potential for something much more serious." - Alex Clark, The Guardian

  • "Williams's recreation of English suburbia is a lovable skit with moments of high humour, but perhaps best appreciated by those who look back at the war with affection." - Isobel Montgomery, The Guardian

  • "There are many things to admire. Williams wears his research lightly, although he has done a lot -- about, for instance, the German atomic fission programme. There are juicy comic moments and sustained comic scenes. But there is something ultimately unsatisfying, perhaps because he tries to cram too much in." - Peter Guttridge, The Independent

  • "Williams's wartime subplots get ever more tricksy (the secrets of nuclear fission are at stake), but his comic creations are inspired." - The Independent

  • "The three central characters are fairly well drawn, which gives the love triangle a certain amount of interest, but most of the other portrayals are overblown caricatures. (...) The excessive length and the lapses into censorious comment suggest that the words "Booker Prize" may have lurked at the back of the author's mind, upsetting his customary lightness of touch." - Hugo Barnacle, New Statesman

  • "Much of the book is moving, compelling and very funny, but itís hard not to feel sometimes, when the elaborate murder plot comes back fully into focus, that oneís attending a pantomime while real bombs fall on to the roof overhead. (...) At the end of the book one has the odd sensation that only the most trivial parts of the story have been solved. Or could that be the point ? It certainly carries you along, all the same, as one would expect of Williams, and it has many intriguing insights along the way" - Alan Wall, The Spectator

  • "The trouble with Nigel Williams is that he's too clever and witty for his own -- and the reader's -- good. Hatchett and Lycett is half a murder mystery, half a satire on whodunnits, half a romance, half a comic caper and half a serious novel about the war and the beginnings of the atom bomb. (...) Each of the halves is excellent in itself; but there are too many of them, and they don't always live happily together." - Marcel Berlins, The Times

  • "Hatchett and Lycett fulfils many of our expectations of a novel by Nigel Williams. It is too long, but in places it is very funny. (...) But ultimately, although it flirts with serious concerns, the best thing about Hatchett and Lycett is its character comedy." - Michael Caines, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Hatchett and Lycett is an ambitious undertaking by Nigel Williams. It tells several stories, but the focus is on the two title characters, Dennis Hatchett and Alec Lycett. Pivotal too is Norma, a girl that they grew up with and who was always a close friend -- and who both then fall in love with.
       Most of the story is set around the beginning of World War II. Hatchett, Lycett, and Norma are all schoolteachers, and the world around them is changing oh so fast. There are also, however, flashbacks -- scenes set in 1921 when Hatchett and Lycett were young boys and events happened that have a lasting effect on both of them (and others).
       There are several major storylines. Hatchett and Lycett wooing Norma is the central one -- strongly affected by the beginning of the war, as well as the events from the past. But other dramatic events also happen. Near the beginning of the novel Norma and Hatchett are among those leading a school outing to France. On their way back to England two things happen: they find they have one more girl in their charge than they left with -- and one of the other teachers, Miss Everett, dies.
       The girl turns out to be Rachel, a Jewish refugee whose father was already sent to a camp in Hitler's Germany. Norma and Hatchett manage to smuggle her into England (diverting attention with the convenient corpse), and pass her off as Norma's niece thereafter.
       Miss Everett's death is a suspicious one, and once more teachers fall by the wayside back in Croydon the matter looks far more serious. But in these times even serial murder can't be properly attended to.
       Meanwhile Hatchett and Lycett both realize they are actually in love with Norma. Hatchett can't quite shake off their old three-way friendship yet, so Lycett is first to the gate with his proposal, one which is accepted. (Hatchett actually gives it a go before him, but turns his proposal into a joke.) But Lycett isn't completely forthright with Norma -- failing to mention that, for example, he has an identical twin, Lucius. (Norma's first (unexpected) encounter with Lucius is then naturally quite upsetting.) Indeed, there is something dark in Lycett's past that remains unexposed but obviously weighs heavily on him.
       The war makes a further mess of things: Lycett is off to fight, while Hatchett remains near Norma (his bad heart not allowing him to join up). Lycett's hilariously (if vindictively) censored letters to Norma help sow further confusion (or at least prevent any clarification).
       So what happened in 1921 ? Something bad, which led to Lucius being sent away. But the truth is more complicated, and it affects and ties together Hatchett and Lycett. The dénouement is not entirely unexpected, but Williams leads up to it quite well. (Usually stories in which pieces are evident but merely not shared with readers until the bitter end are quite annoying, but Williams' manipulations are clever enough that he gets away with it here, for the most part.)
       The teacher-murders somewhat complicate matters, as does the mysterious Rachel. Keeping the girl safe isn't without complications -- her German accent and odd expressions arousing some unwanted attention. It also turns out that she is a very clever lass, and that a friend of her father she is sent to meet -- Otto Frisch -- is working on atomic theories .....
       Lycett fights at Dunkirk, Lucius joins the RAF. There's murder, death on the battlefield, flight from Dunkirk -- and German planes overhead in Croydon. There's heroism, and comic relief.
       The characters are well presented. Rachel is perhaps too good to be true, but very sympathetic. Alec Lycett is perhaps the most complicated figure, and very well drawn: named after his father (emphasizing the favoritism, despite the fact that he is a twin), unable to get over the events of the past. Hatchett -- who is occasionally allowed to speak in his own voice, via some diary entries -- was always the weaker of the two, but grows into a sympathetic adult. Norma, too, is nicely drawn.
       Williams is particularly successful in striking the right tone, his characters almost always racked with a self-deprecating sense of doubt. They are real, and fully-drawn. Meanwhile, he also manages a great deal of humour in all the scenes -- almost never too forced, and generally very realistic. The absurdities and complications of those days and that age nicely presented.
       The book's only true failing -- and it is a considerable one -- is in not drawing together the disparate story-strands better. The teacher-murders, especially, seem grafted on, and even Rachel's story isn't fully exploited or used. Still, Williams has produced an impressive book here -- a solid, very entertaining, often thoughtful read.

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Hatchett and Lycett: Reviews: Other books by Nigel Williams under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Nigel Williams was born in 1948. He has written a number of novels and several plays.

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© 2002-2010 the complete review

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