In his second work of fiction, Nick Laird, a novelist and poet from Northern Ireland, turns the conventional comedy of manners on its head to observe the effects of external forces on close relationships—a theme explored in Utterly Monkey and in his two award-winning collections of poetry. He is married to author Zadie Smith.
The Story: Lonely, cynical English teacher David Pinner crashes the exclusive London opening of a multimedia art exhibit in the hopes of being reacquainted with Ruth Marks, a successful American artist who once taught a class that David took several years before. Although she barely remembers him, David worms his way into Ruth’s inner circle under the pretense of a collaborative art project, but he is soon daydreaming of a much more romantic liaison. When he introduces Ruth to his handsome but naïve roommate, 23-year-old bartender James Glover, the two fall madly in love. Dejected and inconsolably jealous, David resolves to sabotage their relationship by any means necessary.
Viking. 248 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780670020973
Daily Mail (UK)
"Neither situation nor setting are particularly original in Nick Laird’s second novel; but what is, and strikingly so, is the author’s use of arresting but always apt metaphors and images (he’s a published poet) to convey an enviable line in ironic humour, making this a very special and terrifically enjoyable book. Not to be missed." John Harding
"The result is an unusual novel that occasionally struggles towards the plausible, which has a fairly low-key and slow-burning storyline, and whose emotional drama remains muted, courtesy of David’s testosterone levels and embittered inhibitions, yet is written with real panache and frequent sparklings of—and here’s a noun you don’t usually find in reviews of lad-lit—brilliance." Harry Ritchie
"In the familiar surroundings of romantic comedy, Laird is busy plotting something far more unsettling. … When the story starts racing to its wicked conclusion, Laird isn’t kidding. He’s posing a thoroughly modern moral challenge that can’t be laughed off." Ron Charles
Los Angeles Times
"That there is not too much plot is fine because Laird is so deft with character—the many ways we turn more and more inward and devour ourselves like creepy cubist robots." Susan Salter Reynolds
NY Times Book Review
"Deceptively slim, it is as layered as any of Laird’s poems, a searching, heartfelt meditation on the mistakes of youth (and beyond). … The first third of Glover’s Mistake is occasionally marred by a bit too much telling and not quite enough showing. And at times, Laird’s consciousness seems to overwhelm his characters’." Mark Sarvas
"Glover’s Mistake is a contemporary romance that cleverly turns into a psychological thriller, with a final third in which Laird ratchets up the tension with considerable success. While it is extremely readable, however, I doubt I’ll remember much about it in a couple of months: the effect is enjoyable but ephemeral." Alastair Sooke
San Francisco Chronicle
"Glover’s Mistake is a warped love triangle of which two sides are insistently unlikable but only moderately interesting. As we know, likability is often beside the point in fiction—but compelling our interest isn’t." Heller McAlpin
Laird’s witty romantic comedy quickly evolves into something darker, "as though you’d lain down with Nick Hornby and woken up beside Muriel Spark" (Washington Post). Surprisingly—and dangerously, warns the New York Times Book Review—Laird rests this multilayered, character-driven novel on two unlikable protagonists: the bitter, unapologetic David and the thoughtless, self-absorbed Ruth. However, the believable relationship between David and James, a more sinister version of The Odd Couple, is possibly the most fascinating aspect of the novel. Laird’s prose, considered elegant and incisive by most critics, vexed the Telegraph, which labeled him "a slightly fussy, clenched writer." Despite a few complaints, Glover’s Mistake is a sincere, if creepy, meditation on friendship and loyalty.
Cited by the Critics
The Information | Martin Amis (1995): In this hilarious send-up of literary pretensions, Richard Tull, a failed novelist who makes a living as a book reviewer, obsesses over the success of a best friend and old college buddy. In a fit of envy, Tull decides to even the score, but nothing works out quite as planned.
What Was She Thinking? (2003): Short-listed for the Booker Prize, this highly acclaimed novel tracks the downfall of beautiful, bohemian art teacher Sheba Hart through the eyes of her dowdy and jealous colleague. | Zoë Heller