Oh, how easy it is to flirt around the edges of obsession. Charles Cleasby, who's in it up to his neck in Unsworth's wonderful novel, is at one end of the spectrum, admittedly; but it's a spectrum. We're all on it somewhere. The Nelson part of the story I found fascinating, but I don't think "Losing Nelson" is about Losing Nelson. I think it could be about Losing Anyone. Perhaps not even a famous person. Perhaps not even a long-dead person we've never actually met. The book's about where we find meaning, and how far we go - how we rise to the challenge when our faith is tested.
Charles Cleasby, the Nelson obsessive, is presented with humour and sympathy. He's the only realised character in the interior world of the book, which is otherwise peopled by voices, and eyes, from other days. The book is Cleasby's book, and the plot is made by him... and by other forces left deliciously ambiguous. The "real" people Cleasby meets I find more unsatisfactory and two-dimensional with each successive reading: I am no longer engaged in the slightest by Miss Lily, or Hugo, or little Bobby, although I understand why, for technical reasons, they are required.
What brings me back to the book every time is the latent power never quite realised - except perhaps in the final pages. I want those terrible eyes, that unexpected voice. I've read the book three times now, and parts of it still leave me shaken, even scared. Though of exactly what, I'm never exactly sure.