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The Professor of Poetry Paperback – 13 Mar 2014


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; 1 edition (13 Mar. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1444769987
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444769982
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 2 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 148,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

An astonishing and luminous novel . . . every line is newly felt and freshly experienced. The reader is kept guessing: is this an emotional farce and an intellectual tragedy, or is it the opposite? The novel's ironies are multiple and stinging . . . Grace McCleen is an author who, with only her second novel, is setting her own clever agenda. She is a finished artist, but performs on the page with all the aerial grace of someone who senses no limits to what she can do. (Hilary Mantel)

Moving and beautiful . . . this is a remarkable piece of work, empathetic, intelligent and genuinely poetic (Spectator)

Enchanting . . . An utterly fascinating piece for poetry-lovers, and also an extremely poignant read. (Book of the Month, Image)

A grand tragedy with an intimate focus . . . for those who readers sympathetic to Anne's regrets in Jane Austen's Persuasion, or who find richness in the academic wrangling of AS Byatt's literary sleuths and lovers in Possession, there is much here to adore. McCleen's manipulation of suspense is extraordinary - hope for Elizabeth's enlightenment lurks in the shadows of her insecurities and emotional blind spots, and exploration of these dark places renders the novel sinewy with tension . . . her Prufrock-like world is painted with bewitching vitality . . . the narrative sweeps with a sumptuous musicality. (Financial Times)

Her new novel catapults her into the literary big league . . . McCleen invests this ostensibly dry subject matter with enormous poignancy and eroticism (Mail on Sunday)

An intricate tapestry in which past and present mingle to mesmerising effect . . . what eloquence! There are sentences here of such agile cleverness, charged with wit and beauty and enchantment. (Observer)

It's McCleen's unflinching dedication to detail that will enchant readers. This novel has obviously been pored over, cherished and perfected . . . [her] graceful weaving through the present and past of her main character produces an intriguing - and original - story. (Stylist)

McCleen doesn't make Elizabeth easy to like and this is part of the professor's charm. She doesn't "do" summer, most definitely does not do love poetry, and would like to teach Virginia Woolf a thing or two about semicolons . . . an intricate tapestry in which past and present mingle to mesmerising effect . . . what eloquence! There are sentences here of such agile cleverness, charged with wit and beauty and enchantment. (Guardian)

Book Description

'Astonishing and luminous' - Hilary Mantel. The dazzling new novel from the prize-winning author of The Land of Decoration.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This took a very long time to read. Not because the plot was complicated, no - but because so many sentences are of such great beauty that they deserved reading again, and savouring. McCleen is right up there with the literary big guns in my opinion. In this book she has developed a very strange character:a solitary little girl named Elizabeth Stone (initially brought up by her mother in a house by the sea, then who goes to live with aloof foster parents)who is clever enough to get a place at a prestigious university where she is a star student for her hipster mentor, Professor Edward Hunt. Their intellectual admiration is mutual, and it leads to a chaste, but passionate friendship.

Despite her growing love for her Professor (although she does not recognise it as that) Elizabeth has made an internal vow to make her work her life, in which there is no place for men. After leaving the 'city of books' (never named but thought to be Oxford) she pursues her own academic career, becoming a Professor of Poetry.

The novel examines Elizabeth's internal conflicts and influences that have formed her personality, skipping back and forth through time; her childhood, her university days, her interactions with Edward. It's difficult to like her - she is aloof, selfish, totally driven to succeed intellectually and makes minimal effort to fit in with the social scene. Yet McCleen keeps us completely interested in both Elizabeth's thought processes and her behaviours with such mesmerising prose that it has the ability to evoke all the reader's senses at once.

The novel begins with the Professor of Poetry being given the news that the brain cancer she developed at 52 is in remission.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Ripple TOP 500 REVIEWER on 4 July 2013
Format: Hardcover
Grace McCleen's "The Professor of Poetry" is Elizabeth Stone, a 52 year old aged professor at a London University. When the book opens she has just discovered that a cancer scare is now in remission, but forced by her illness to take a sabbatical, she sets about researching her latest book based on some papers of TS Eliot. This takes her back to Oxford, to her alma mater and raises the prospect of seeing her former professor there, a man convinced of the young Miss Stone's potential at an early age, but whose last meeting was somewhat awkward. McCleen looks at the issues raised by generations of poets, namely time, death and love. For Professor Stone, the first has passed, the second come uncomfortably close and the third remains unknown to her. What's more, her academic focus is on the music of love poetry which is somewhat ironic in that she avoids human relationships perhaps due to the death of her mother at an early age and an unhappy foster experience, while also having a peculiar aversion to music. Perhaps though this is what allows her a detached ability to write academic studies.

Like many writers before her, following on from a book of such extraordinary critical acclaim as "The Land of Decoration" is always a challenge. There are some familiar elements though. Again, McCleen writes of a detached outsider and there is a similar haunting sadness to her writing which make McCleen such an interesting writer. However, in other ways until the end of the book where she does pull a rabbit out of the hat, it suffers somewhat in comparison.
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By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 3 Mar. 2014
Format: Hardcover
Grace McCleen's second novel (in fact I think her first in terms of writing, second in terms of publication) is a dreamy, gently melancholy meditation on middle-aged regrets, with a faint hope offered that some wrongs and misunderstandings can be righted. Elizabeth Stone, McCleen's heroine, is a 50-year-old Professor of Poetry at UCL, who has sacrificed virtually everything for the life of the mind. She lives in a small, rented, characterless flat, has virtually no friends, has never had a partner and never bought herself any pretty clothes - as far as we know she's not travelled much, or taken part in any pleasurable activity outside of reading and writing, either. Shortly before she is due to complete a magnum opus on Milton, Elizabeth Stone is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour, and given a poor prognosis. When she goes into what seems to be a miracle remission, she decides to give up her Milton project, and instead return to the 'city of books' (Oxford, though never named) where she studied, to pursue research on T.S. Eliot and the essential musicality of poetry. It turns out that the Eliot research is not Elizabeth's only reason for wishing to return to the city of books. She wishes to see her own 'Professor of Poetry', Edward Hunt, who supervised her in her second year, who really cared about her, and who might - had her life and temperament been different - become her lover. Once back in Oxford, Elizabeth is overcome with memories both of Professor Hunt and her student days, and of her mother, who died when Elizabeth was five, and whose death (a suicide, we assume) goes at least some way towards explaining Elizabeth's self-hatred, fear of bodily contact and hatred of music (which her mother loved, and used to cry while playing).Read more ›
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