The Calligrapher is a story that is so true, so moving, so elegant, so witty, and insightful, so fine, so direct, and so oblique that you cannot help but surrender to its mastery. This novel is a fine treatise on the nature of love, and the lengths that humans will actually go to fall in love. John Donne's love poetry provides the thematic skeleton of the story, as the reader follows the travails of Jasper, a very modern man, who is a breaker of hearts, and an absolutely selfish, but at the same time rather endearing womanizer. A calligrapher by profession and a totally self-obsessed hedonist, Jasper falls head over hills in love with Madeleine his beautiful neighbour. What follows is a fabulous tale of seduction and obsession as Jasper is forced to confront the ghosts of his deceitful past.
Jasper is betrayed by love, and his own duplicitous behavior comes back to haunt him. Ultimately he becomes a man tortured by unrequited love - a man who turns out to be wounded, bedraggled and dismembered. Along the way Jasper is constantly expounding his views on all sorts of issues about life and modern society. We hear his thoughts on Australians, women, god, sex and the nature of love - and he never ceases to surprise us with his witty banter and cynical sense of humour. For Jasper, love is cautious and mute, "an unknowable risk taken in the darkness during unsettled weather". But in his journey to find the meaning of love, Jasper is actually embarking on a journey of self-discovery and maturity.
The lengths of falsehood and deceit that the characters go to in this novel is breathtaking in its scope, and the sudden plot twist, involving Madeleine and one of the other characters will make you absolutely gasp in surprise. Contemporary society hasn't changed that much since John Donne's time and this story shows that his love poetry may probably be just as relevant today - people are still plagued by issues of faithfulness, unfaithfulness; truth falsity, and possession.
Fans of calligraphy will find much to appreciate in this novel. Docx inculcates the tale with lots of details on the history and techniques of calligraphy, and he does this without ever stultifying the story. The reader learns about Rustic Roman Capitals, Half Uncial, New Roman Cursive and the ancient beauty of illuminated manuscripts. And these details are effortlessly woven into the narrative. There's also some fantastic descriptions of London - the Chinese tailors on Carnaby Street, the inner city groove of Soho and the foggy beauty of Wimbledon Common, And there's also some beautifully atmospheric descriptions of Rome, where Jasper and Madeleine holiday together - the street lanterns in the Ponte Sisto, the scrawny Tiber, and the dome of St. Peter's.
This is an extraordinarily modern and contemporary story with a splendidly historical bent. One of the best books of the year, and an absolute must read. Docx is a startlingly fresh and talent writer whose take on human relationships is brutally honest; he's a real talent, and I can't wait for his next novel.