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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine example of the biographical novel
What Colm Toibin did for Henry James in 'The Master', Damon Galgut has done for E.M. Forster in this persuasive portrait of the writer. Though much of what he includes is based on Forster's writings and on biographies, diaries and letters, etc., this book does what only the novel can do: it humanises the subject to a deep and complex degree, bringing him alive and getting...
Published 3 months ago by R. A. Brown

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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only half connect
I genuinely wanted to like this book. I love Forster and I like Damon Algut's work - but, this felt tepid and at a certain point I didn't know what the point was. If you know your Forster, your Firbank and all the recent biographers it's difficult to know what this adds. There's the occasional satisfaction of 'spot the reference to the novel' but , after that, it's thin...
Published 4 months ago by johnsaturn


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine example of the biographical novel, 10 April 2014
By 
R. A. Brown (Hove, E.Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Arctic Summer (Hardcover)
What Colm Toibin did for Henry James in 'The Master', Damon Galgut has done for E.M. Forster in this persuasive portrait of the writer. Though much of what he includes is based on Forster's writings and on biographies, diaries and letters, etc., this book does what only the novel can do: it humanises the subject to a deep and complex degree, bringing him alive and getting under his skin. It fills in those gaps and places that are not documented, that are the realm of speculation and imagination, places that a good biographer would be wise to avoid. Having read Forster's novels and about the writer all my life, I have formed a picture of him which, I'm glad to say, resembles closely that of Galgut's recreation of him; everything about it had, for me, the ring of truth.

It doesn't attempt the cradle-to-grave coverage of the traditional biography, it concentrates on a dozen years or so during Forster's 30s and 40s. It traces the connections between Forster's lengthy stays in Egypt and India, of his two main romantic friendships in these countries, and of the books he was writing - or finding it impossible to write - at the time. Forster was always a diffident outsider: in middle-class England and as a foreigner abroad, as a sensitive artist rather than a man of action. He was an outsider, too, because of his sexuality. In a homophobic society (only a generation after Wilde's disgrace) fear and shame damned up his desire for physical and emotional intimacy with another man (he was not to lose his virginity until his late 30s).

Forster's search for love and sex provides Galgut with a major theme. He charts the writer's complicated, unsatisfactory relationships with the two men he fell in love with, Mohammed and Masood, both of whom died relatively young. This is where he takes us to places where only the novelist can venture. Forster, as an outsider, remains, during this period, essentially alone, his desire to connect thwarted by mismatched sexuality and homophobia. Eventually, he achieves a sexual liaison at the crumbling Maharajah's palace where he was staying, with a young barber bought for his services (a rent boy in today's terms), but this too was unsatisfactory: it brought out in him disturbing impulses towards colonialism and cruelty.

I doubt whether Forster, always a private man, would have appreciated this novel, even though, without hero-worshipping him, Galgut is very much on his side; but such figures - like Virginia Woolf, who makes several cameo appearances here, or like Henry James - in time become stock figures of culture, their avatars if you like taking on a life of their own in the collective imagination - and in novels as the main protagonists. Biographical novels have elbowed out a respectable place of their own as a sub-genre in recent years; this is, I think, a fine, balanced, scrupulous example of it. Though, if I'd been the subject of such a novel, I'd wince at how much it reveals, how close and personal it gets; but that, after all, is the form's raison d'etre and without it we'd feel cheated.

Who would this novel appeal to? Fans of Galgut's work, of course, as well as Forster's. People interested in gay history - it is, besides anything else, a study in how the shame of being gay at that period crippled men's emotional lives, leaving them feeling isolated and undeveloped. People interested in the India and Egypt of the time and the background to 'A Passage to India'. All those who relish a biographical novel that is subtle without being difficult, that does full justice to its subject during one formative period of his life. And, of course, anyone who enjoys a literary novel whose prose strikes the right note on every page, is mature and beautiful.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical and compelling fictional account of E. M. Forster, 26 Mar 2014
By 
John Peyton Cooke "JPC" (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Arctic Summer (Kindle Edition)
I'm an admirer of E. M. Forster's novels but have never read any biographies. ARCTIC SUMMER by Damon Galgut is brilliant. It provides a novelist's viewpoint on the development of Forster as a novelist, and Forster's coming into his own as a person through his friendships, loves, and travels, and his unique point of view. It's hard for us to imagine today what it must have been like for a timid Englishman like Forster to break out of the constraints of the British class system and pervasive racial prejudice in order to live life his own way as a gay man who was primarily drawn to men of different classes and different cultures. It's a moving story, very well done and consistent with Forster's worldview, particularly on issues of friendship and loyalty. Well worth reading, whether you know anything about Forster or not. The writing is lyrical and compelling, striking just the right notes throughout. I could not put it down. It's my first exposure to Damon Galgut, and now I'm going to catch up on all of his other books.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical, cinematic and poignant, 8 Mar 2014
This review is from: Arctic Summer (Paperback)
A beautifully told fictionalised account of E.M.Forster and the inner torment he went through as he came to terms with his sexuality. Galgut writes in a similar vein to how David Lean brought A Passage To India to life in film – sensuous, evocative and a pleasure to experience.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 15 July 2014
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This review is from: Arctic Summer (Kindle Edition)
Excellent
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful story magnificently written, 13 July 2014
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This review is from: Arctic Summer (Kindle Edition)
Wonderful story magnificently written. It made me think inn so many different directions. I was devastated when it came to an end.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Better than 'good in parts', 27 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Arctic Summer (Kindle Edition)
I was taken a bit by surprise by Arctic Summer. I had done no on-line research and because I read it on Kindle, I had no dust jacket blurb to alert me to the fact that it was a fictionalised (though fact-based account) of the writing of one of the great novels of the twentieth century. It was only when I was several pages in (about 3 percent in Kindle-speak) that I realised that the subject - Forster - was the great EM of that ilk.
Forster’s homosexuality is pretty well-known though I have never read his overtly gay work, Maurice. The gay element in the book was therefore not a surprise. I thought at first this was a book about the influence of the writer’s personality on his work - which it was up to a point. At the end, however, it seemed clear - to me at least - that this was a study of the whole creative process and ultimately quite a fascinating one. Here is a man who is struggling to express himself but frustrated by the knowledge that much of what he wants to say is simply unsayable in the the early twentieth century so the whole story has to be dressed in suitably heterosexual clothing. In the end I was left with a sense that the creation of Passage to India was serendipitous - that it somehow happened in spite of the intentions of EMF. For most of the eleven years he was writing PTI, he was deeply despondent about the outcome - something which is reflected in the early stages of the project when he wrestles with the issue of the pivotal incident in the caves …”No matter how he tried it, the words sat on top of the deed: they had no soil and no roots. There was something wrong with how he had imagined it, something essentially dishonest and out of balance, and as his narrative crept toward the threshold, the rock refused to open for him.’
When the book is finally published, he is surprised - if not stunned - by its success.
Galgut offers a very believable view of how the author’s personality is reflected in the book - and not just his sexual orientation - his relationship with his mother and with women generally, his views on war and, most importantly, his conclusions about the British Empire.
In the final chapter of the book, Galgut tells us that Forster was criticised for not fully understanding the British-Indian relationship. Galgut himself is Guilty of a couple of minor solecisms; he describes one of the Indian characters, Imdad Iman, as feeling ‘warmly about many things English, from poetry to playing polo.' Polo is of course essentially an Indian game. In the Egyptian episode there is reference to British officers avoiding duty in the trenches in WW1 when in fact the casualty figures show that the British officer class suffered disproportionately more deaths in the battlefield than the other ranks.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Agony and the Ecstasy of E.M.Forster, 25 April 2014
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Arctic Summer (Kindle Edition)
“Arctic Summer” is in fact the name of an incomplete novel written by E.M.Forster in 1912/13 but published only in 2003; and Galgut uses its title for his novel about the author. From the beginning it is clear that much of it is about Forster’s tormented homosexuality: how he awoke to his own homosexual feelings; how inhibited, formal and proper he was (and dependent on the conventional opinions of his mother, with whom he was living when he was in England); how it was partly love but on other occasions feelings of sheer lust; how these loving, but unconsummated relationships began with his Cambridge friend Hugh Owen Meredith, and continued with a young Indian, Syed Ross Masood whom he was supposed to coach in Latin for his entrance exams to Oxford. When Masood returned to India, Forster travelled out to visit him there, and the novel begins on shipboard during that journey in 1912.

In India Forster spent only a short time with Masood. Though their relationship was close, they seemed to expect different things from each other, in a way that I do not completely understand (nor, said Galgut in an interview with the Economist, did he himself quite understand what had been happening between them. There are great blank areas about Forster’s inner life, and these Galgut has been trying to fill). So Forster explored much of India on his own, and this is described in some detail (the only part of the novel that I thought was a little pedestrian). He felt an outsider among his fellow-Englishmen in India, and not only because of their contempt for the Indians; but he was equally an outsider among his Indian friends.

He returned to England, in love with India, though much had distressed him there, and still in love with Masood, unhappily so because his intensity was not reciprocated. He began the novel in which he used his experiences in India, but something blocked him and “ A Passage to India” was not completed until ten years later, in 1924, the last novel he was to write, 46 years before his death.

In between he met the charismatic Edward Carpenter, a well-known radical in all sorts of ways, one of which was his avowal of love between men. It liberated something in Forster, who now for the first time wrote about a homosexual relationship in the novel “Maurice”, though this novel, too, would be published only posthumously in 1971. But here he was writing about a full physical encounter between two men when he had never yet ventured into carnality himself - just as his first four published novels had described relationships between men and women when he had had none such himself.

During the First World War he worked for the Red Cross in Alexandria. He did not find the Egyptians nearly as attractive as he had found the Indians; but then he fell for a young tram-conductor called Mohammed; and the development of the relationship between these two is lengthily and delicately described by Galgut; and at the end, for the first time, Forster has the physical experience he has been longing for so many years. Then the war ended and he returned to England.

On his previous stay in India, he had met and impressed the Maharajah of Dewas, who now invited him to come to become his Private Secretary on a temporary assignment while the previous Private Secretary was on a few months’ sick leave in England. Forster, who had become stuck with his India book, agreed, and sailed out again in 1922. He was bewildered by the Maharaja’s court (very good description, as also of the Maharajah himself). His sexual advances to a coolie led to an acutely embarrassing and then to a quite unexpected - almost comic - consequence. This set him free for further “adventures” - they were now merely physical and exploitative, without any of the affection Forster had felt for Mahsood and Mohammed, and they heightened Forster’s self-disgust.

The Maharajah had been very kind to him, but Forster had not really enjoyed this second visit to India very much, though what he did take away from it was an appreciation of the mystical side of Hinduism which lay behind the worship of the doll-like idols.

Back in England, he resumed, after a while, the work on the book over which he had got stuck for so long. On his first visit to India he had visited some caves in Bihar; he had set a scene in such a cave, and had felt vaguely that this scene should be central to the novel, but he had not been able to see the MEANING of the episode. In a fine piece of imagination, Galgut describes how the blockage was suddenly lifted, as the very Indian thought came to him that we should not always look for meaning, but should accept that mystery is at the heart of things. There were some other problems, philosophical and personal, left, but eventually the book was finished. There are few pages on its reception; there is a poignant moment (imagined, as the author makes clear) when Forster overhears a comment about himself, which explains the title Galgut has given to his novel. The elegiac ending is set during Forster’s third visit to India, in 1945, some years after Mahsood and the Maharajah had died.

That India was on the verge of independence, and one of the aspects of the book is Forster’s awareness, both in India and in Egypt, of the resentment in those countries over British rule.

A beautifully written and sensitive novel.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only half connect, 13 Mar 2014
By 
johnsaturn "whistan" (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Arctic Summer (Hardcover)
I genuinely wanted to like this book. I love Forster and I like Damon Algut's work - but, this felt tepid and at a certain point I didn't know what the point was. If you know your Forster, your Firbank and all the recent biographers it's difficult to know what this adds. There's the occasional satisfaction of 'spot the reference to the novel' but , after that, it's thin pickings. It depends on a knowledgeable reader - and the knowledgeable reader already knows.
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Arctic Summer
Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut (Hardcover - 6 Mar 2014)
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