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The Professor of Poetry by [McCleen, Grace]
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The Professor of Poetry Kindle Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Product Description


...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. (Charlotte Moore Spectator)

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. (Hephzibah Anderson Observer)

Book Description

A powerful, lyrically told and unusual love story by the prize-winning author of THE LAND OF DECORATION.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1128 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; 1 edition (4 July 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #249,125 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Our heroine, Elizabeth Stone, is 52 years old; she is single, independent, and a respected academic working as an English professor at UCL. She is dedicated to her work and, with her sensible wardrobe of cardigans, pleated skirts and neat blouses, Elizabeth's life follows the path she has planned for. However, when she begins to feel unwell, collapses during a lecture and falls asleep during a meeting, only to wake up and find herself dribbling onto her cardigan, Elizabeth realises that maybe she needs help and reluctantly visits her doctor to have her health checked. When a brain tumour is diagnosed and subsequently successfully treated, Elizabeth, now in remission, is advised to take a sabbatical - and, in doing so, she takes on a whole new lease of life.

Elizabeth decides to return to Oxford: "the city of books", a city she hasn't revisited for more than thirty years, to carry out research on some of the papers of the poet T.S. Eliot, which she feels may help to make her next book her 'magnum opus'. There, Elizabeth becomes reacquainted with Professor Edward Hunt: "Black boots, scuffed, laces knotted three times. Jumper: too large, small hole near cuff. Hair: grey but still rising in ridiculous tufts" - who was Elizabeth's tutor when she was studying in Oxford, and a man to whom she was in thrall all those years ago ...

Intelligent, beautifully written and, at times, rather moving and intense, this story, with a strong evocation of place, is about being alone and how some people bury themselves in their work in order to fill their empty spaces; it's about how people avoid confronting issues that they would rather not face, and it's about being trapped in the past and regretting that life has not been lived to the full.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I started this with high hopes having very much enjoyed McCleen's debut The Land of Decoration. However it was really, really hard to read. Someone's obviously complimented the author on her skill with description because the slightest thing has a very overblown description, which is a real shame as it detracts from the plot which is slim yet interesting, about a professor recovering from brain cancer who goes to visit her old college and mentor. I really struggled maintaining any interest in the story when the sighting of seals, for instance, which could be beautifully summed up in a few words, is strung out into a long and tedious paragraph:

"... the silky heads, the curved bodies that looked human, at the silver coils which spread like oil on the water and went on spreading, like hair, that looked just the way her mother's hair did when she swam in the sea..."

Any one of these would have worked beautifully on its own, but it's like putting cream, ice cream, maple syrup and honey on top of a trifle. Too much.

The next few paragraphs are all description as well, and the story lost any power it had for me. It felt like the book was a showcase for McCleen's knowledge of poetry and poets (which was interesting to a degree, as I love poetry) and of words (ditto). I was desperate for it to be over and stopped caring about what happened to anyone in it. What a shame!
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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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