The Nix by Nathan Hill

The Nix Nathan Hill‘The Nix’ by Nathan Hill tells the story of Samuel Andresen-Anderson, a thirty-something college professor with writer’s block whose estranged mother Faye is arrested for throwing rocks at a conservative Presidential candidate and subsequently portrayed in the media as a radical hippie. Samuel is on the verge of being sued by his publisher for failing to produce the novel he received a huge advance for several years earlier and in order to avoid bankruptcy, he must write a biography of his mother who he hasn’t seen for over twenty years. However, his quest for information about Faye reveals that she has a far more complex past than he ever imagined.

The first thing to say about ‘The Nix’ is that it is very long, or sprawling as some might say, clocking in at over 600 pages. As with almost any novel of significant length, there are sections which could have been subject to some harsher editing and as a result, the story tends to go off on some fairly long descriptive tangents. However, the plot is skilfully constructed in such a way that none of the subplots or characters could easily have been edited out completely which is a pretty remarkable achievement. All of the different elements of Samuel’s family story are essential to the plot and the supporting characters are equally well drawn, from his childhood friends Bishop and Bethany to his grandfather’s early adulthood in Norway during the Second World War through to Faye’s upbringing in Iowa and involvement in the countercultural movement in Chicago in 1968.

The second thing to say about ‘The Nix’ is that it is a satirical novel which is genuinely and consistently funny throughout. The passages from the 2011 strand of the story about the effects of Samuel and his online friends’ addiction to the computer game Elfscape – not a million miles away from a possible ‘Black Mirror’ style scenario – and his meeting with serial plagiarist student Laura Pottsdam are particularly brilliant. I think comedy is one of the most difficult things to pull off convincingly in fiction – Hill not only manages to do this repeatedly in several different contexts but also balances the satire effectively against the more poignant aspects of the story.

‘The Nix’ has been mentioned in virtually all of the “ones to watch” lists and for very good reason. Yes, it could have been shorter, but above all, it is a hugely entertaining and very well written debut novel. Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “The Nix by Nathan Hill

  1. Susie | Novel Visits

    I’ve considered The Nix several times, but always feel like I don’t have the time for 600 pages. Sounds like I should make the time!

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  2. Ooh. Don’t mind if I do. Now let’s see if they will grant my request! Fingers crossed.

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  3. I’ve been wondering about this book. Thanks for the review.

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  4. I like the sound of this – as you say, comedy can be hard to sustain but when done well it’s worth it.

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  5. This sounds worth investing the time for. I’m currently reading 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster which is 880 pages. Loving every one of them!

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  6. I always hesitate before investing the time it takes to read a book this large, but this one sounds like it is worth it! Very impressive indeed to have written such a long book with so many crucial characters and plotting. Enjoyed your review!

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  7. Col

    As you mentioned I’ve been reading about this on almost every ‘ones to watch’ list for 2017. Wasn’t sure – put off initially by the cover more than the length ( how random is that!) but like sound of it from your review. Think it’s out early Feb so will give it a go.

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  8. lefloreb

    Thanks for the review. It was on my to read list for 2016 and I’ll move it forward.

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  9. Pingback: The Man Booker Prize 2017 Longlist: Predictions, Possibilities and Preferences | A Little Blog of Books

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