The Start of Something by Holly Williams: One thing leads to another

Cover image for The Start of SomethingThe Start of Something is Holly Williams’ second novel although some might call it a very closely linked set of short stories or, perhaps, episodes. Somehow, I missed her debut but will be adding it to be my TBR list. This new book follows ten characters over the course of a summer, stringing their stories together rather like a daisy chain, beginning with Will whose partner left him after persuading him to move with her to Sheffield.

It is a recognition, that one chapter is coming to an end and another is about to begin. That they are teetering on the brink of something: of new lives, new selves, new friends, new loves, all the excitement and all the terror of being free to be whoever they want to be.

Will is a welder working as an assistant to a sculptor making his job more respectable to his middle-class parents. Lonely after Teodora’s departure, he finds company via dating apps connecting with Manda who’s visiting her father for the weekend before returning to the bar she manages. Her ill-advised hook up with a member of staff has miserable repercussions for Si and his girlfriend who finds solace at a party with an older woman in a polyamorous relationship about which she’s not entirely sure. Prisha’s non-binary partner spends the weekend with Soo, an old friend and fellow artist, offended by JB’s high-minded inability to make allowances for the difficulties of single parenthood and her need to earn money through sex work. That weekend’s client is troubled by his wife’s sexual proclivities, no longer confident in their open relationship which leads her to an encounter at a festival with a drag queen who brings us back to Will and a walk in the Peak district.

Don’t fret yourself, he she they, whatever you fancy.

This is such a cleverly structured novel, the baton smoothly passed from one character to the next with occasional back references neatly slipped in, all at the start of something new, sometimes welcome, sometimes not. The overarching theme explores sexuality, gender and identity with empathy, compassion and the occasional warm-hearted flash of humour. Each character has slept with the next in the chain providing a link between them but it’s their backstories and relationships which grab your attention. Many are lonely or sad, several are trying to please their partners at their own expense, others are heartbroken but Williams chooses to end her book with a welcome episode of joy and hope. I thoroughly enjoyed this smartly constructed novel which explores many different forms of love and sexual identity, acknowledging how fraught their navigation can be. There’s a lot of art in it, too, which is always pleasing for me.

Orion Fiction London 9781398706347 368 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)

15 thoughts on “The Start of Something by Holly Williams: One thing leads to another”

  1. I’m currently reading this. It is clever, well- written and constructed, but as it’s in demand at the library, I may not get it finished in time (I have two other books also requested back on the same date and so far unread). And that feels OK. I can see how it works now, and feel that if the worst comes to the worst, I can get by without completing the ride.

    1. I can see the pressure’s on but I’m glad you’re enjoying it. She’s very skilful in her linking and I liked the way she handles what can be contentious themes, injecting a little humour. I can tell you (privately) how it ends if needs be.

  2. That structure does sound interesting and cleverly done and I’d like to see how things come back full circle. Off the top of my head this is putting me in the mind of a Jeffrey Archer short story the Grass is Greener–linked very differently to this–but broadly coming back full circle like this.

  3. This sounds exciting, I really enjoy these kinds of linked narratives. This sounds particularly well done, and the time period is right up my street.

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