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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing study of character, theme, and history.
There have been a number of dramatic, descent-into-madness books in the past few years, but Losing Nelson is so much more sophisticated and so much broader in scope that I hope it will not be categorized with other, more limited (though still fascinating!) books. With a main character so complete that one remembers him for much more than his obsession with Nelson and his...
Published on 18 Sep 2003 by Mary Whipple

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great read with a perplexing finale.
I found this story to be well written with very good characterisation, well researched and interesting. Although it is likely to appeal more to readers with an interest in Nelson, such a knowledge is not necessary to enjoyment. The main character borders on madness and his mental state as he grapples with the truth behind Nelson's involvement in the butchering of inocents...
Published on 23 Sep 2002 by K. C. Simpkins


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing study of character, theme, and history., 18 Sep 2003
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Losing Nelson (Paperback)
There have been a number of dramatic, descent-into-madness books in the past few years, but Losing Nelson is so much more sophisticated and so much broader in scope that I hope it will not be categorized with other, more limited (though still fascinating!) books. With a main character so complete that one remembers him for much more than his obsession with Nelson and his descent into madness, the novel is remarkable in its development and narrative tension.
Charles Cleasby, highly intelligent and very reclusive, believes that he and Adm. Nelson are the same person--that he is, in fact, the dark side of Nelson. At the outset of the novel, Cleasby is trying to reconcile his abiding belief in Nelson's heroism with Nelson's behavior in 1798, when he aided the Bourbon rulers in Naples against the French and directly contributed to the outbreak of a civil war in Naples. Strong evidence suggests that Nelson has betrayed a truce and that he bears responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Neapolitans.
Unsworth so thoroughly incorporates the life of Nelson with the life of Cleasby that we feel Cleasby's confusion about his alter-ego Nelson and sympathize with his moral quandary. The historical detail throughout is both fascinating and pertinent in showing parallels between the characters and in highlighting their differences. The movement of the narrative back and forth in time and location is seamless. Ultimately, Unsworth raises the larger questions of what constitutes a hero and why a nation even needs heroes, elevating this book to a significance of scope and universality that few novels ever achieve. Mary Whipple
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves to become a modern classic., 19 Mar 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Losing Nelson (Paperback)
This absorbing novel works at two levels. At the most obvious it provides a quite chilling portrayal into an obsessive personality's accelerating retreat from reality, describing it with wit, insight and sympathy. Beyond this however it provides an extended meditation on the contradictions and conflicts associated with the gifts of genius and heroism. The subject of the protagonist's fixation is Horatio Nelson, whose biography he has been writing over many years. The crisis of the novel is brought about by his inability to reconcile Nelson's brilliance and inspired leadership as a naval commander with his pettiness ashore, with the crunch coming as regards Nelson's disputed, but probable, betrayal of his word as regards treatment of surrendered Neapolitan revolutionaries in 1799. The great strength of the novel is the way in which Nelson's career prior to and after this turning point is dealt with so rationally by the main character, and the reasoned way in which he deals with the adverse and pedestrian criticism of his hero by the prosaically-minded but kindly typist who is assisting him, thus throwing his inability to cope with the facts of Neapolitan episode into even sharper contrast. This is however only one of the many contrasts that dominate the story. Another is between the excitement and dash of Nelson's life afloat and the wretched biographer's claustrophobic existence in a modern England that has seldom been portrayed in terms more grey. Within Nelson's own life the contrasts continue, between his masterly grasp of the application of seapower at all its levels and the confusion and squalor of his private life and between the clarity of his judgement under extreme stress in battle and the pathetic vanity that dominates his behaviour ashore. Despite its sombre subject matter this novel abounds with quiet humour, which includes some rich self-parody, as with the frustrated biographer's indignation about the presence at a lecture of his of a "writer who had just published a long novel about the eighteenth century slave trade". In summary, a splendidly memorable and thought provoking novel, well up to the standard of Mr.Unsworth's "Sacred Hunger" and "Rage of the Vulture" and, like them, unflinching in its confrontation with the darkest aspects of the human spirit.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great read with a perplexing finale., 23 Sep 2002
By 
K. C. Simpkins "greenhotparrot" (Yorkshire, England.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Losing Nelson (Paperback)
I found this story to be well written with very good characterisation, well researched and interesting. Although it is likely to appeal more to readers with an interest in Nelson, such a knowledge is not necessary to enjoyment. The main character borders on madness and his mental state as he grapples with the truth behind Nelson's involvement in the butchering of inocents in Naples is absorbing. However, like another reviewer, I was completely mystified by the ending which I also did not understand. This was a pity because with a good ending it would have warranted 5 stars. So if you think you're good at unravelling mental complexities, this is for you.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside loneliness, 6 April 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Losing Nelson (Paperback)
I can only whole-heartedly agree with the review by D.A.O'Neil. This is an insightful and enthralling novel of a lonely soul who is absolutely heartwrenching in his nakedness. He is unable to interact with real people, and increasingly, also with himself. The lurking madness under the neat and ordinary surface is only hinted at, and I marvel at the gentle, inconspicuous and almost loving way Mr Unsworth produces this effect - reading this novel one is really inside raving loneliness and peering out through the eye-slits. In texts of this kind, tiresome childhood clichés often abound - here, childhood memories appear genuinely suppressed and genuinely acute. And the poor protagonist has no clue, and this also feels so genuine and believable. As time goes by, he slowly begins to understand, but the insights are too much for him. All very quietly and gradually, very orderly and quite devastating.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing and unsettling, 3 Aug 2009
By 
Jl Adcock "John Adcock" (Ashtead UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Losing Nelson (Paperback)
Losing Nelson is perhaps the best novel I've read about mental health issues and what it is like to be obsessed and living in an alternative universe. Barry Unsworth certainly knows his stuff when it comes to Horatio Nelson, and he cleverly weaves some of the naval hero's story into the wider context of the book - the closed in life of Charles Cleasby and his obessesion with the life of Nelson.

The book is very well-written and engrossing throughout, and the claustrophobic, possessed nature of Cleasby is terribly well-done. The finale falls away a little I thought, with a conclusion that didn't seem entirely plausible, but nevertheless it was shocking enough to stay in the mind beyond the last page. Losing Nelson is that rarest of things - a book that actually unsettles the reader as the story and themes unfold. Superb - and thoroughly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Losing Nelson, 15 Mar 2005
By 
L. G. Langstone-bolt "Luci07" (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Losing Nelson (Hardcover)
This is very well told story and beautifully written. I actually read it alongside Christopher Hibberts biography of Nelson at the same time which gave me more information.
The story is based around 1 man who is obsessed with Nelson and reliving the major events within Nelsons life and the story is told through his eyes. In fact, his entire outlook and way of living is grouped around his obsession. However, there are elements within Nelson's own life and character that he cannot come to terms with and this is the story of reality encroaching into fantasy.
Very thought provoking although I wasn't that keen on the ending as I didn't feel it lived upto the promise elsewhere in the book, but definately worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Inadvertent Detective, 13 Dec 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Losing Nelson (Hardcover)
As per his usual M.O., Barry Unsworth includes a mystery in his latest Booker-contender. The reluctant amateur sleuth, Cleasby, is an agoraphobic compulsive loner who is working on a biography of his hero. (Like Dostoevsky writing "The Gambler" he has some help.) Obsessed with Nelson and sure of his greatness, Cleasby finds himself drawn against his will into investigating the possibility that his hero is culpable for the shabby betrayal of Neapolitan prisoners in 1799 - republican rebels who surrendered under the promise they could embark for exile. Month by month he celebrates the 200th anniversaries of Nelson's famous victories and month by month he finds himself drawn closer to the uncomfortable truth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deep, thought-provoking, 6 Mar 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Losing Nelson (Paperback)
This is a fascinating book, which works on a number of levels. OK there's a lot here about Nelson and some of his battles but there is much more, not least the study of hero-worship and its debunking. The man in the story reminded me of Fowles' 'The Collector' with his besotted blinkered life bordering on paranoia. I did get a bit tired of his wrestling with the problem of what happened in Naples in 1797 but by the end I realised how important it was to the novel. Not an easy read but very fine writing; complex but rewarding
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb study of hero worship and obsession, 13 Mar 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Losing Nelson (Paperback)
As well as a great novel this book shows that Unsworth conducted in depth research into Nelson's campaigns and is an excellent introduction to the questions and ambiguities surrounding Nelson's life. In particular the section on the battle of the Nile is excellent, and Admiral de Brueys unpleasant fate really shocked me. Woven into this narrative history is the story of the modern day author, alone in his large London house, only conversing with his typist and his fellow Nelson enthusiasts at the Nelson club, although even they are dismissed as amateurs with no appreciation of the great man.
I take onboard (no pun intended) the points made by some of the negative reviewers but quite frankly with a book about a single middle aged depressive obsessive living on his own - were you really expecting a happy ending?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When historians go too far, 23 April 2011
By 
L. Camidge "Linda Camidge" (Penzance UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Losing Nelson (Paperback)
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.
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Losing Nelson
Losing Nelson by Barry Unsworth (Paperback - 6 July 2000)
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