Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review - The Great Lover by Jill Dawson

The Great Lover by Jill Dawson
published 6/10
310 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

In 1909, sixteen-year-old Nell Golightly is a housemaid at a popular tea garden near Cambridge University, and Rupert Brooke, a new tenant, is already causing a stir with his boyish good looks and habit of swimming naked in nearby Byron's Pool. Despite her good sense, Nell seems to be falling under the radical young poet's spell, even though Brooke apparently adores no one but himself. Could he ever love a housemaid? Is he, in fact, capable of love at all?

Jill Dawson's The Great Lover imaginatively and playfully gives new voice to Rupert Brooke through the poet's own words and through the remembrances of the spirited Nell. An extraordinary novel, it powerfully conveys the allure of charisma as it captures the mysterious and often perverse workings of the human heart.

My thoughts:

A few years ago, I became fascinated with The Bloomsbury Group, the cadre of writers and artists living in and around London in the early 1900s. I knew Rupert Brooke was an acquaintance of many of the key players in the group - specifically Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey - so I was eager to read this fictionalized account of his life.

I found Dawson's portrayal of two colliding worlds - Rupert's one of education and privilege, and Nell's one of hard work and struggle - to be quite compelling. By allowing both Nell and Rupert to share their story in their own voice, the contrast between their mindset and situation is stark. The reader never has to guess why this particular love affair is doomed to fail - the failure is inevitable, almost from the very beginning. And yet Dawson's skill as a writer kept me turning the pages, even as I knew already how it would end.

But I found this novel to be much more than a love story - really, it was an insightful and carefully constructed character sketch of two equally fascinating people. Rupert's free spirit and lofty ideals, and Nell's quiet intelligence and gentle care for those she loved made me care about what happened to each of them, quite separately from their relationship to each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed the reading of this novel. I don't think it will appeal to everyone - there is, at times, not a whole lot of plot, and I can imagine some readers will feel bogged down in the character's descriptions of rather mundane, everyday situations. But it worked for me, and I continue to be fascinated by this particular period of history, and it's vibrant but ultimately doomed heroes and heroines.

Finished: 6/6/10
Source: review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours - thank you!

MPAA Rating - most like R, because while the sexuality isn't explicit, it's prevalent
My rating: 7/10

If this book sounds interesting, check out the other stops on it's tour:

Wednesday, June 2nd: Books Like Breathing

Thursday, June 3rd: Eclectic/Eccentric

Monday, June 7th: Peetswea

Tuesday, June 8th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

Wednesday, June 9th: Bookstack

Thursday, June 10th: Nonsuch Book

Monday, June 14th: 1330v

Tuesday, June 15th: Literate Housewife

Tuesday, June 22nd: My Two Blessings

Wednesday, June 23rd: Thoughts From an Evil Overlord

Thursday, June 24th: The Tome Traveler

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