In an attempt to plumb the nature of obsessional love, this slim British novel dabbles with psychological motivations but comes up with a pretty simplistic analysis.
It begins well. In a coolly detached narrative, the exacting life of psychiatrist Richard Fisher is described, including his new-found interest in child psychology. He has begun to miss Nell, the child of a brief marriage, whom he hasn't seen since she was a toddler. Now back from a long sabbatical in the States, he decides to reenter the girl's life on her 11th birthday. Thereafter, meeting every Wednesday for tea and talk, he wins her heart, her respect, her star-struck awe. A number of years pass in this manner, father and daughter's ritual steady and comforting, until Fisher informs Nell one evening that he's moving back to America for a job he can't pass up. Flash-forward a few years as Nell, still pining for her father, enters college and develops a crush of epic proportions on her tutor/father-figure, the distinguished drunkard/melancholy poet Bill Marnie. Her endearing crush evolves into a feverish fixation and, unexpectedly, her fantasies come to life: Nell is in heaven, and Marnie is giddy with love. He proposes marriage but then, afflicted by a recurring mental illness, suffers a total breakdown (we learn later its source), which in turn throws Nell into a near-catatonic tailspin. Surprisingly, the first man who "left" her, her father, suddenly returns to live in Londonan end that implies a therapeutic resolution to Nell's problems.
Second-novelist Boyt (The Normal Man, published only in UK) begins by crafting a complex psychological portrait of her protagonist, but then resorts to a serviceable romance plot that veers away from any deep or original exploration of the ways love and obsession can commingle.