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The Great Lover: A Novel Paperback – June 1, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Dawson (Trick of Light) adroitly weaves together fact and fiction in this artful account of British poet Rupert Brooke's mental breakdown in the years before WWI. Boyishly handsome, Brooke arrives in Grantchester, England, and quickly begins a series of tangled romances. He woos a reserved schoolgirl, loses his virginity to a male friend, and flirts shamelessly with numerous women. Observing these ill-advised exploits is a no-nonsense housemaid, Nell Golightly, who, recently orphaned, thinks of herself as immune to love. Then one fateful evening she comes across Brooke naked, on his way for a night swim. Their subsequent relationship is complicated by class and Brooke's bisexuality. For Nell, the relationship poignantly marks the boundary between childhood and adulthood, while for Brooke, Nell provides a counterpoint to his other sexually confusing relationships. Finally, insecure about his poetry, grappling with his brother's death, and shattered by his failed affairs, Brooke begins to come undone, eventually finding solace with a Tahitian woman. Burrowing deep inside Brooke's mind, Nell is a capable narrator, and the result is a believable, sensitive portrayal of a great lover's search for love. (June)
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Moving, intelligent, beautifully written and hugely enjoyable Sunday Times Dawson brilliantly evokes Brooke's volatility, his inner dissolution and ultimate breakdown. Independent Strong, satisfying and memorable Helen Dunmore, The Times Not only engaging and seductive, it is also clever, witty and artfully designed Times Literary Supplement An exceptional book even from the prize-winning Dawson - clever, moving, sexy and with a mesmerising feel for that magical, optimistic, but doomed time just before the Great War Daily Mail Nell is a wonderful creation: resilient, intelligent and heart-breakingly innocent ... [Dawson]manages not only an impressive evocation of Brooke's milieu but a compelling reassessment of a poet often dismissed by modern readers ... most of all, her novel digs Brooke out of that corner of a foreign field that is forever cliche Time Out Jill Dawson has created a convincing world of huge pathos; a subtle, evocative anti-fairy-tale of doomed youth by one of Britain's most subtle and accomplished writers Liz Jensen, Waterstone's Books Quarterly The Great Lover has many wonderful scenes ... But it is remarkable principally for its Rupert Brooke, glorious in all his agony and shame, particularly as he sees his sanity slipping away from him ... this novel shows a rare mastery of materials. Dawson has worked the imaginary character of Nell so seamlessly into the narrative of Brooke's life that Nell seems to belong there. It is difficult to see where the many direct quotations from letters and memories end and Dawson's imagination begins. Daily Telegraph --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top customer reviews
This letter forms the basis for Nell's story. Beginning in 1909, she relates her life as a young woman working to support her brothers & sisters after their parents have died, and her meeting and infatuation with the young Cambridge student who comes to live at the Orchard. Rupert Brooke (his picture is above, beautiful isn't he?) is charismatic, charming, talented, even slightly wicked. Nell watches his interactions with women (and men) and despite both she finds herself romantically captivated and intellectually challenged by this fascinating man:
"Here we stop...and I acknowledge to myself the one hard fact that, despite my nature, it has taken me so long to face. There is no request Rupert could make of me that I would refuse. Whatever the pledge between me and God, this is the truth."
As a counterpoint to Nell's story, we get Rupert's own, told from his perspective in alternating sequences. Here it is revealed how much of his outer persona is a sham. He is terribly unsure of himself, sexually inexperienced, not confident of himself as a lover or a writer. He longs for peace, time to think and be alone with his thoughts, though he is constantly and almost randomly infatuated with different people:
"...There are only two ways of approaching relationships. One is only to allow love on the supposition that it may lead to marriage-the other is- the wandering way. And there are people made for the first way and perhaps people made for the second. But to introduce those made for the first to people made for the second is to invite pain and endless trouble....I'm a wanderer."
~Rupert Brooke, in a letter to Phyllis Gardner, 1913
The impetus to escape leads him to the Orchard House and eventually to Tahiti, where some of his best poems were written.
"I think I've always been a sucker for a sexy, brilliant, impossible man."~Jill Dawson
I love the above quote from the author's essay at the back of the book about how she came to write The Great Lover, "The First Tiny Throb: How a Novel Begins." I found her portrayal of Rupert Brooke fascinating, as the man himself must have been. I loved Nell, her intelligence and courage, her ability to look past her social class, her gentle confidence. Rupert was interesting but Nell was the star of this beautifully written novel.
In 1909 prim and proper housemaid Nell Golightly has watched Rupert's carouse and thinks he is shameless. Since her parents died, she vowed to never fall in love as that hurts the survivor. However, Nell falls into swooning lust when she runs into Rupert as he goes for a skinny dip swim. They begin a tryst, but he turns increasingly morose as his myriad of affairs leave him without solace at a time he grieves the death of his brother and doubts his poetry writing skills. Instead of turning to Nell, he rejects her for a Tahitian.
Nell makes this deep biographical fiction of the Pre WW I era British poet Rupert Brooke come alive as she tells the tale of a talented young man who confused making love with being in love while ironically he sought love everywhere he went. Although he is The Great Lover, in Nell's mind her Rupert also lacked confidence in sustaining and receiving love and his talent as a poet. Jill Dawson provides a powerful perceptive portrait of a man questing for love.
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