Read The Great Lover: A Novel (P.S.) by Jill Dawson Free Online
Book Title: The Great Lover: A Novel (P.S.)|
The author of the book: Jill Dawson
ISBN 13: 9780061924361
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 24.33 MB
Edition: Harper Perennial
Date of issue: June 1st 2010
Read full description of the books The Great Lover: A Novel (P.S.):This sixth novel by Orange Prize-nominated author Jill Dawson concerns one of England's most iconic poets -- Rupert Brooke, famous for his World War I poem The Soldier ("If I should die, think only this of me:/That there's some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England.")
He is also remembered as being a war poet who never saw battle -- as a character notes early on in the novel, "Of course he didn't even die in action, and for some people, septicimia from a mosquito bite wasn't the right kind of death for a poet-hero."
However, the rather mawkish title The Great Lover comes from one of his lesser-known poems, written while the poet was on a sojourn in Tahiti from 1913-14. That poem, opening with its Casanova-like boast, is in actual fact a tribute to the fleeting beauty of everyday life.
It is included at the end of the book, which in tracing the poet's short life -- he died when he was 27 in 1915 -- aims to separate the man from the myth and find the "everyday" Rupert Brooke, rather than the idealistic or foolish (take your pick) young poet he is immortalised as.
As a result, this novel doesn't have much in the way of a compelling plot. It is very much a character study, and a sensitive, nuanced one at that. However, as is the case in many biographies and historical novels, much of the appeal of the book depends on how interested you are in the subject in the first place -- a disadvantaged for Brooke who, while well known, lacks the lustre of an internationally-acclaimed genius.
In his favour is the fact that Brooke did have a colourful life. The novel opens clumsily with a fictional letter from one Arlice Rapoto, Brooke's illegitimate daughter with a Tahitian woman, seeking information about her father. An old woman in 1982, she sends the letter to the Orchard in Granchester, England, a house where Brooke had stayed on and off from 1909 to 1914. "I want to know: was he good man?" she asks winsomely.
Her letter is passed to Nell Golightly, an elderly woman who used to work as a maid at the house. This sets the stage for the fictional Nell's recollections of Brooke's time at the Orchard, alternating with Brookes' own fictional narrative, which present a portrait of the artist as a confused young man.
Nell is a wonderful character, a clever device which allows the reader to view Brooke from a unique perspective, as well as an engaging person in her own right. A 17-year-old girl who goes to work as a maid after her beekeeper father dies and she is left to support her five younger siblings, she is tough, smart and likeable, even if she holds some views that now seem terribly submissive, for example her oppositon to the then-burgeoning women's suffrage movement.
It is testament to the author's skill at crafting the character that in this aspect, Nell appears misinformed rather than unthinking, and she is even fiercely independent in her own way. But as Elizabeth Bennett-like as Nell might be in spirit, Brooke is no Mr Darcy.
In contrast to the conventional image of Brooke as a golden boy, the novel depicts a young man full of dark urges and self doubt. "Is it all to be such prettiness, my work, and is that what I'm to be remembered for?... the pretty golden one who wrote -- what was it again that he wrote?" the poet despairs at one point.
He doesn't just fret about poetry -- he embarks on several failed attempts to lose his burdensome virgnity, before finally achieveing success when he has sex with a former schoolmate ("how much easier to find a willing boy than a willing girl").
Indeed, sex is a huge part of this novel, almost tediously so. At points, Brooke amusingly comes across as something of a pervert, exposing himself to maids and urging girls to accompany him on naked night swims.
More compelling is how the novel captures the ethos of pre-war England, from the suffragette movement to the socialist ideals of the Fabian Society, as well as the upstairs-downstairs politics of the inevitable romance between Brooke and Nell. He finds her beautiful, but it is an attraction born of glamourisation (of the working class) and condesencion.
"In point of fact, what could one ever know about such lives as Nell's? About such queer minds, which must remain as mysterious as the minds of water nymphs or coalmen?" Brooke ponders at one point about Nell, while he manages to envision her harsh lifestyle in the countryside as "the bees and flowers and water everywhere, full of fish and fowl".
Still, the story wouldn't be much of a story without love -- or lust -- transcending boundaries. The author is a master of description, and there is a rather romantic scene, beautifully written, where Brooke and Nell kiss for the first time amidst the bees she tends: "The bees sizzle around us, like a pan of fat in the stove. I close my eyes at once. I feel the hardness of Rupert's teeth with my tongue. I open my mouth a little, not knowing what else to do. Flakes of sunlight flutter like confetti on my eyelids."
It is towards the end of the novel that the narrative really flags. The obligatory consummation of Brooke and Nell's relationship feels unnecessary and overly sentimental, while the poet's sojourn to the South Seas feels anticlimatic, more a case of an Englishman bedazzled by a foreign culture rather than an actual connection forged between himself and Taatamata, the mother of his daughter.
With its focus on character study, the novel lacks any real tension, and in the end some might feel disgruntled about the ploughing through a novel about a poet they did not really care much for in the first place, and in the end realising that they still don't care very much about him.
Still, it is a beautifully written and sympathetic portrayal of a poet for whom writing was the only means to express all the dark contradictions he felt. As Nell thinks at one point, "Rupert's true heart beats only on paper."
Read information about the authorJill Dawson was born in Durham and grew up in Staffordshire, Essex and Yorkshire. She read American Studies at the University of Nottingham, then took a series of short-term jobs in London before studying for an MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. In 1997 she was the British Council Writing Fellow at Amherst College, Massachussets.
Her writing life began as a poet, her poems being published in a variety of small press magazines, and in one pamphlet collection, White Fish with Painted Nails (1990). She won an Eric Gregory Award for her poetry in 1992.
She edited several books for Virago, including The Virago Book of Wicked Verse (1992) and The Virago Book of Love Letters (1994). She has also edited a collection of short stories, School Tales: Stories by Young Women (1990), and with co-editor Margo Daly, Wild Ways: New Stories about Women on the Road (1998) and Gas and Air: Tales of Pregnancy and Birth (2002). She is the author of one book of non-fiction for teenagers, How Do I Look? (1991), which deals with the subject of self-esteem.
Jill Dawson is the author of five novels: Trick of the Light (1996); Magpie (1998), for which she won a London Arts Board New Writers Award; Fred and Edie (2000); Wild Boy (2003); and most recently, Watch Me Disappear (2006). Fred and Edie is based on the historic murder trial of Thompson and Bywaters, and was shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread Novel Award and the 2001 Orange Prize for Fiction.
Her next novel, The Great Lover, is due for publication in early 2009.
Jill Dawson has taught Creative Writing for many years and was recently the Creative Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia. She lives with her family in the Cambridgeshire Fens.
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