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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 6 February 2014
...and makes you think of words not said and paths not taken. Because of this, 'The Professor of Poetry' surely has universal appeal. However, I was distracted and a little irritated by the author's attempts to create an imaginary sort of Oxbridge - with recognisable bits of each place - and giving it the name 'the city of books' got on my nerves.
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on 26 June 2015
A deeply introspective novel about a hermetic, very self-absorbed female academic's attempt to complete an academic project that will impress her original academic mentor when she was an undergraduate. Challenging.
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on 11 February 2016
I have just read this for the second time. After reading The Land Of Decoration and loving it I bought this immediately but found it hard going on first read although still a wonderful book. On second reading the real depth of writing is clearer. Possibly because I read it more carefully! This is a book about academics that contains a lot of literary references as the protagonist is writing a book about T.S. Elliot ..Four Quartets. For those of us who have not been to Oxford and studied at this depth it can get a bit tough going. But the characters are written with great sensitivity and the layering of themes of loss and lives half lived are tenderly portrayed.
Recommended.. I very much enjoyed it.
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VINE VOICEon 8 March 2016
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As a poet myself I found this novel really irritating, like a nagging sore that I couldn't leave alone. I found myself returning to it despite my inclinations in a bid to try and find out if anything happens. The reader is rewarded eventually but too little and too late in the last few pages. There are pages and pages of pompous yet eloquent description. I turned off in the latter part frankly when I got to these as they didn't seem to say anything about the plot or character.

This is certainly an interior book that centres on the inner life of Elizabeth: a tutor and professor of poetry at university. I did not quite believe that someone with such personality issues could reach such an elevated place. This character hates music, does not understand or feel attraction or desire, lacks all curiosity about anybody but her previous tutor, is a virgin and cannot bear to be touched. Music is central to understanding and appreciating poetry so how did she end up even studying it? She became this way because of a depressive mother if I am reading this correctly. Elizabeth makes a miraculous cure having been through chemo for a brain tumour - again this is not quite convincing.

The most compelling scene for me was a repeated dream scene that is very evocative of a dream. The connection with Edward, particularly towards the end is well-written and moving. But as previously stated, too little and too late.

This novel left me with one over-riding question: what do editors do with their time these days?
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on 27 October 2015
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The first time I opened up this book I only read the first chapter, not because I hated it, but because I could feel it drawing me in and I wanted to pick it up when I could have a really in depth session with it. The language here, especially in parts, is beautiful and mirrors the lyrical, literary themes throughout, which are the focus of Elizabeth's (the 'professor of poetry') study.

Having been told that, following a fight with cancer, she is once again 'to all intents and purposes.. a well woman' (page 3), Elizabeth decides to search for inspiration for her ultimate academic thesis, after feeling she has stagnated somewhat in this area of her life. This prompts a return to 'the city of books', where years before she was a student. After reaching out to contact a professor from her time there, Elizabeth makes her arrival in the city and we are promptly drawn into the parallels of her life as a student and her life now, returning many years down the line. Can her relationship with the professor reach the heights she has always wished, after striving to impress him for years? Will her past catch up with her and force her to consider the path her life has taken?

Overall this is a very introspective novel. The format is great, set mainly over eight days and interspersing chapters from Elizabeth's past and present. It allows us a great depth of character and we get to know more about her troubled mind and how she came to be in the place she is in life. I felt that, although this was the case, there was something a bit lacking and we ultimately were left without a full concept of why Elizabeth is the way she is, very academic and introverted to the extreme at times, even with the sum of the experiences we do come to know about. She herself is somewhat of a closed book.

There are intriguing literary passages and it can't be doubted that McCleen can write. I feel that, in the end, it was just a little too verbose though and the book dragged on. There was a real lack of pacing and plot development, particularly in the middle section, and I did find it hard to get through which was disappointing after a seemingly promising start. I'm not sure if it was the character or slow pace of development that was irritating, but it was just a little lacking in a few elements. I've given it 4 stars as I would try another book by McCleen, but it unfortunately wasn't as good as I first felt it would be.
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VINE VOICEon 16 October 2015
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Grace McCleen writes so empathically in her identification with the pain and anguish of Professor Stone. Communicating the essence of her repressed emotions is so powerful, and a true delight to read.

I do sense that there is a parody of the intellect here, where music and poetry have an assumed symbiotic connection in Professor Stone’s attempt to come to terms with her life. By this I mean that the intuitive reader knows this important connection, but it is hitched up to another level to make it that more credible in making sense of Professor Stone’s troubles. It all works so splendidly.

So we have a delicate, sensitive, grossly intimate, and at times soporific work that totally engaged me. Grace McCleen writes with a mature humility beyond her years, skilled in conveying the experience of a moment, (and dare I say a gestalt), quite exquisitely.

Written with this astute and canny umbrella of a parody on music and literature as a vehicle this ploy actually gives immense depth to Professor Stone’s tragic path through life. Very fine.

I found this novel profoundly intelligent and moving, disturbing and refreshingly alarming in making the reader aware of this poor lady’s struggle to come to terms with herself and her inner demons. Freedom does eventually come for her, but not until after we experience her painful, but releasing catharsis. Both impressive and brilliant. A novel’s influence that will remain with me.
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on 5 February 2014
Although I enjoyed this book, a couple of flaws niggled me. I have a problem with someone who's a professor of poetry, supposedly with a feel and understanding for language and diction, continually describing vinyl records as `black spheres'. A sphere is a ball shape. A record is a disc shape. I've never heard records likened to spheres before. At first, I thought she must be talking about some outlandish, sci-fi music delivery system - then I realised.

Another thing that doesn't read right is her misuse of grammar. On a number of occasions, she writes `as if I was' instead of `as if I were' (future conditional).

Anyway, although it's hard to believe that anyone could be allergic to music or be music-phobic, McCleen's writing as a whole is convincing.

I would recommend her first novel, The Land of Decoration though. It's one of those books you wish would never end.
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VINE VOICEon 15 November 2015
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is an unusual novel, in that there is little plot, the sentences are very long and there is detail about the theory of poetry. If you love all those things it’s for you if you don’t you will likely not complete chapter one. The heroine if you can all her that is Elizabeth Stone, a single 50 something cliché of a stuffy professor, all thick tights and flat shoes. She’s had a brush with cancer and decides to perform some research in Oxford and during this enforced time off she reflects on her life. The other main character is her professor who was effectively her muse in college that maybe she will meet whilst there.

There were things I really liked about this book, the author gets under the skin of Elizabeth and shares with us her inner most thoughts, fears and feelings good and bad. These reflections on her life are compelling. The musing on poetry I found rather dull and on occasion the long sentences and the long observations were hard going, for example, filling sentences on an annoying insect in the library. I also thought the female lead was in the end not realistic, a cliché of repression, looking for love but not aware so I found the conclusion all too cheesy. The author could have chosen many more interesting alternatives.

Some may love it but others will hate it, I loved parts of it but not the whole.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Well, this is a change of direction after her debut novel – a turn from magic to very serious relationship drama. I have to say I find this better territory for her style. The story revolves around Elizabeth, and academic post-cancer scare, whose work on writing a novel takes her back to a place and a relationship of old. The former beau is the titular professor of poetry.

The relationship is complicated because Elizabeth’s character is one fraught with a past that has led her to contain her emotions, to deny her romantic feelings. It is therefore an introspective look at her, and the way her troubled attitude to true love introduces difficulties that she must overcome. If this sounds like an intellectual slog through a sad and emotional mire, McCleen is a few steps ahead of you, because she writes beautifully. It is a literary novel, but easily readable. Fort all that, it remains a sad story, and in reading it I found it at times a little wearing on the soul. It is sometimes so intense that I had to put it aside, read some Jane Austen or whatever, and then return to it. It’s worthwhile though, because McCleen is several echelons above the average author.
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on 9 February 2016
The language and use of language reminds me of a poor translation into English, or a book written by someone whose second language English was learned some decades ago. Long passages of lecturing about TS Eliot and other poets. Not even an interesting central character.
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