Losing Nelson Paperback – 6 Sep 2012
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Admiral Horatio Nelson has remained one of the enduring heroes of English nationalism. Perched atop Nelson's column in London, the Admiral has been rattled on his pedestal with Tom Pocock's revelations in Nelson's Women. However, Barry Unsworth's devastating novel Losing Nelson takes the interrogation of the Admiral even further, in this dark, gripping study of the dark side of heroism and hero worship.
In the basement of his large anonymous North London house, Charles Cleasby obsessively re-enacts every manoeuvre of every single military engagement undertaken by his hero and "bright angel", Admiral Nelson. Cleasby's fervent admiration of the Admiral extends upstairs to his life's work, a biography of the great man. Cleasby's only assistant in his heroic struggle with Nelson is Miss Lily, a hired secretary paid by the hour, who carefully transcribes Cleasby's painstaking attempts to rescue Nelson's name from unpatriotic, academic cynics. Yet Cleasby's passion soon reveals a darker side, as he declares that he is in fact Nelson's "dark twin", sharing with the Admiral a parental bereavement at the same age. This, alongside the brutality of his emotionally crippled father, throws Cleasby into an agoraphobic tangent to everyday reality. His only solace is his growing attachment to Miss Lily, and the ongoing struggling with his bright angel, as the novel slowly and deliberately builds to its shocking climax.
Losing Nelson confirms the Booker prize-winning Unsworth as one of the most elegant but understated novelists currently writing. The historical grasp of Nelson is outstanding, but where the novel really excels, and also profoundly disturbs, is in its exploration of the tarnished angels of patriotism and heroism. This is an absorbing, troubling novel. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"It is accomplished, effective, exciting, and intelligent ... information is cunningly deployed, the pace is controlled: the mood of zealous desperation is heightened from page to page" (Hilary Mantel Sunday Times)
"Wonderful" (Barbara Trapido Independent on Sunday)
"Ingenious ... richly informative and sardonically entertaining" (Books of the year Sunday Times)
"This truly excellent novel delves deep into the tragic side of hero-worship and heroism, and is a work of pathos and power" (Guardian)
"Masterly" (Evening Standard)
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Top customer reviews
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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