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The Professor of Poetry Hardcover – 4 Jul 2013
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...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)
Enchanting...An utterly fascinating piece for poetry-lovers, and also an extremely poignant read. (Rachel Glover Book of the Month, Image)
Moving and beautiful...this is a remarkable piece of work, empathetic, intelligent and genuinely poetic. (Charlotte Moore Spectator)
A grand tragedy with an intimate focus...for those who readers sympathetic to Anne's regrets in Jane Austen's Persuasion, or who find richness in the academic wrangling of AS Byatt's literary sleuths and lovers in Possession, there is much here to adore. McCleen's manipulation of suspense is extraordinary - hope for Elizabeth's enlightenment lurks in the shadows of her insecurities and emotional blind spots, and exploration of these dark places renders the novel sinewy with tension...her Prufrock-like world is painted with bewitching vitality...the narrative sweeps with a sumptuous musicality. (Beatrice Hodgkin Financial Times)
Her new novel catapults her into the literary big league... McCleen invests this ostensibly dry subject matter with enormous poignancy and eroticism (Mail on Sunday)
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)
It's McCleen's unflinching dedication to detail that will enchant readers. This novel has obviously been pored over, cherished and perfected...[her] graceful weaving through the present and past of her main character produces an intriguing - and original - story. (Stylist)
Blissful and beautifully written. (Saga)
McCleen doesn't make Elizabeth easy to like and this is part of the professor's charm. She doesn't "do" summer, most definitely does not do love poetry, and would like to teach Virginia Woolf a thing or two about semicolons... 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. (Guardian)
A powerful, lyrically told and unusual love story by the prize-winning author of THE LAND OF DECORATION.See all Product description
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The story can be summed up in a sentence. Middle-aged academic Elizabeth Stone, lately recovered from a serious illness, returns to her alma mater to research a paper on T.S Eliot and is forced to reexamine an unresolved relationship from her student days. That's really all that happens, but Grace McCleen's prose is so electric, her understanding of her main character so complete and so compassionate, that by the story's conclusion we feel as though we have lived it ourselves.
It has a lot to say about the causes and effects of self-denial. Having survived a traumatic childhood, Professor Stone has achieved a glittering academic career but remains emotionally unfulfilled, living only through her books and afraid to trust or rely on her instincts. It's as though she handles life wearing gardening gloves, terrfied not only of pain but sensation itself. Instead, she places her faith in structure - her theories about poetry have become a kind of insulation which prevents her from living the life the poets evoke. One memorable flashback scene has the young Elizabeth bolting in terror from a concert, unable to deal with the confused emotions and impressions music evokes.
The only person with whom she has ever truly connected is her tutor, her mentor as a 19 year old in the "city of books", but she has rejected him,unable to process the idea of love just a she is unable to process the wildness and unpredictability of music. When she meets him again thirty years on, the stage is set for a confrontation. But of what kind?
I wont spoil the ending, but like Eliot's 'Four Quartets" which is the subject of Elizabeth's latest thesis, it deals with past, present and future - and with choices and their consequences. A beautifully written and atmospheric novel.
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. It's also very much a book about books, so if you enjoy literature and literary criticism, then you will find much that is satisfying to read in this unusual and absorbing story. I must admit that I have not read Grace McCleen's debut novel: The Land of Decoration which, I understand, is very different to this second book, but having enjoyed 'The Professor of Poetry' has made me very interested in obtaining a copy and I shall certainly be looking out for the author's next literary offering.
The writing is exquisite. The words roll rhythmically like notes. It is sheer pleasure to read.
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