So Nell turns her mind to 1909 when, as a seventeen-year-old housemaid, she first encountered the young poet. He was already causing a stir - not only with his poems and famed good looks, but also by his taboo-breaking behaviour and radical politics. Intrigued, soon Nell realised that despite her good sense, she was falling for him.
But could he love a housemaid? Was he capable of love at all?
©2009 Jill Dawson; (P)2009 Isis Publishing Ltd
A Richard and Judy Book Club selection.
"A compelling portrait of a failed love affair and of a damaged man." (Telegraph)
"Strong, satisfying and memorable." (Times, London)
"Clever, moving, sexy and with a mesmerising feel for the magical, optimistic but doomed time before the great war." (Daily Mail)
This is a difficult book to review, given that it is based on the life of a poet who lived early last century (1887 - 1915). It is therefore a bit pointless to bemoan the fact that he appeared entierly self-centred and sexually obsessed, presumably that is how he was, but it didn't make for enjoyable listening. This is another audiobook that I may well have abandoned if it had been a regular book.
Rupert Brooke lived a relatively brief life, dying from septacemia from a mosquito bite while on active duty in WWI. He is probably best known for his highly charged war poems.
This narrative is largely told from the point of view of Nell, a ficttional character, who cares for him while he is living at The Orchard, Granchester. It is a flippant time, with Rupert and his fellow Cambridge students, wealthy and without a care beyond boating and sex. It's not all of the heterosexual variety either. Nell becomes just another of his potential conquests, though there does appear to be something meaningful lurking there, if he could ever have a meaningful relationship?
The story is pulled together by a letter sent from Tahiti, supposedly written by Rupert's daughter from his relationship with a Tahitian beauty, Taatamata, wanting to know more of the father she had never met. The letter finds its way into the hands of Nell, one of the many who had fallen in love with Rupert during his brief life. Nell thus narrates what she knew of him and Rupert's own voice fills in the parts she could not have known.
Jill Dawson's prose was faultless, my reservations with the book revolve around the behaviour and character of Ruper Brooke himself; his endless self-questioning and search for sexual understanding became quite tiresome.
The narration of this audio version was excellent, with Patience Tomlinson reading Nell's passages and William Rycroft, those of Rupert. Unfortunately there are some parts where the female narrator reads Rupert's voice and this did not ring true.
"A lovely story, beautifully told"
I greatly enjoyed listening to this audiobook, which tells the story of the poet Rupert Brooke, from his point of view and from that of a housemaid who works in the place where he stays while in Cambridge. The story is told in alternating voices, Nelly and then Rupert. I think the author used a great deal of information from Brooke's life and letters; with the exception of the invented character of Nelly, much of it seemed quite accurate. The reading of it is lovely and the whole story very touching (despite Brooke's classism and self-absorbtion and agonizing over things:). By the time I got to the end and the narrator read Brooke's poem, "The Great Lover," as a kind of epilogue, I was pulled over to the side of the road, weeping. I recommend it.
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