The Great Lover - Jill Dawson (Review)

Amazon Summary: 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?

Rating: 3/5

Review: The Great Lover is a novel detailing a semi-factual, semi-fictional tale of poet Rupert Brooke’s young life and travels. The narration switches back and forth between Rupert’s perspective and that of a completely fictional young maid named Nell who works at the tea house Rupert is staying at. The story follows a fleeting romance between the two, as well as their individual lives outside of the tea house. I quite liked the blending in of real-life information when it came to Brooke’s narrative. Jill Dawson took great care to research his life and writings, and crafted a beautiful character study of the writer - exploring his possible feelings and motivations for various biographical moments. His narrative was noticeably rich and felt real. Unfortunately, only half of the novel is from this perspective. I think it’s a really neat, interesting way to humanize and explore historical figures. The writing itself is descriptive and lovely and was probably the main reason I stuck around for the whole read. Dawson’s frank approach while discussing Brooke’s bisexuality was refreshing as well.

Truly though, when this book ended all I could think was “Why?”. The story is slow and ultimately goes nowhere. Unless viewed only as an intense study of Brooke’s personality, this book fails to have a purpose. Nell and Rupert’s relationship, while mildly interesting felt empty and ended too neatly for my taste. Although the historical and political setting was interesting to explore, it ultimately left me unsatisfied.

Final Thoughts: If you’re a die-hard Rupert Brooke fan - I’m sure you will enjoy exploring his life through this novel. Otherwise, I can’t say I would tell you to bother picking it up.

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