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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 1 May 2003
I don't usually submit reviews on Amazon, but I thought I'd make an exception. I have just finished reading this book and thought that I'd lend my voice to tell everyone out there about it - since I think it is the first novel that this author has written. But you wouldn't know it - this book is polished, funny and even has some proper twists in the tale that would put any Hollywood scriptwriter to shame (if anyone wants to lend me some cash I'll buy the film rights right now). But most importantly it has characters you can believe really exist - Jasper the deluded hero and eponymous calligrapher, and Madeleine the cool sexy girl who he sets out to ensnare after years of playing the field. The star of the show for me is Insanity Dez, but then if I go on much longer I'll be spoiling it for you. So my recommendation for you would be to get hold of a copy of this very modern romance, find the nearest beach, and have a good lie down and read the thing from cover to cover.
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on 1 December 2003
The Calligrapher is a story that is so true, so moving, so elegant, so witty, and insightful, so fine, so direct, and so oblique that you cannot help but surrender to its mastery. This novel is a fine treatise on the nature of love, and the lengths that humans will actually go to fall in love. John Donne's love poetry provides the thematic skeleton of the story, as the reader follows the travails of Jasper, a very modern man, who is a breaker of hearts, and an absolutely selfish, but at the same time rather endearing womanizer. A calligrapher by profession and a totally self-obsessed hedonist, Jasper falls head over hills in love with Madeleine his beautiful neighbour. What follows is a fabulous tale of seduction and obsession as Jasper is forced to confront the ghosts of his deceitful past.
Jasper is betrayed by love, and his own duplicitous behavior comes back to haunt him. Ultimately he becomes a man tortured by unrequited love - a man who turns out to be wounded, bedraggled and dismembered. Along the way Jasper is constantly expounding his views on all sorts of issues about life and modern society. We hear his thoughts on Australians, women, god, sex and the nature of love - and he never ceases to surprise us with his witty banter and cynical sense of humour. For Jasper, love is cautious and mute, "an unknowable risk taken in the darkness during unsettled weather". But in his journey to find the meaning of love, Jasper is actually embarking on a journey of self-discovery and maturity.
The lengths of falsehood and deceit that the characters go to in this novel is breathtaking in its scope, and the sudden plot twist, involving Madeleine and one of the other characters will make you absolutely gasp in surprise. Contemporary society hasn't changed that much since John Donne's time and this story shows that his love poetry may probably be just as relevant today - people are still plagued by issues of faithfulness, unfaithfulness; truth falsity, and possession.
Fans of calligraphy will find much to appreciate in this novel. Docx inculcates the tale with lots of details on the history and techniques of calligraphy, and he does this without ever stultifying the story. The reader learns about Rustic Roman Capitals, Half Uncial, New Roman Cursive and the ancient beauty of illuminated manuscripts. And these details are effortlessly woven into the narrative. There's also some fantastic descriptions of London - the Chinese tailors on Carnaby Street, the inner city groove of Soho and the foggy beauty of Wimbledon Common, And there's also some beautifully atmospheric descriptions of Rome, where Jasper and Madeleine holiday together - the street lanterns in the Ponte Sisto, the scrawny Tiber, and the dome of St. Peter's.
This is an extraordinarily modern and contemporary story with a splendidly historical bent. One of the best books of the year, and an absolute must read. Docx is a startlingly fresh and talent writer whose take on human relationships is brutally honest; he's a real talent, and I can't wait for his next novel.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 15 August 2011
Edward Docx's debut novel centres on Jasper, a young man living in London and working in the unusual and interesting field of calligraphy. His present commission is to transcribe the songs and sonnets of the great lover, John Donne, and whilst he focuses on Donne's work, Jasper's other great interest in life is the seduction of women - in fact it would not be unfair to say that Jasper, a good-looking, charming and intelligent man, is also a passionately ardent heartbreaker with a very high opinion of himself and of his sexual prowess, and who has very little consideration for the young women whose hearts he callously breaks. Jasper, however, is due for a comeuppance and this arrives in the form of the lovely and elusive Madeleine who, as soon as Jasper sets eyes on, he plans to seduce - but Jasper hadn't bargained for falling in love with the enigmatic Madeleine and he has no idea that Madeleine knows more about Jasper than is good for him.....

A very contemporary tale of life and love in the city where the author brings London vividly to life and I also very much enjoyed reading about Jasper's grandmother and her life in Rome. The sections of the book where Jasper describes his work and the poetry of John Donne were very interesting and informative and helped to make this modern tale a deeper and more intelligent read; however, as this novel is narrated by Jasper himself, do be prepared for a rather 'blokey' style of language and humour - some of which, I can imagine, not everyone will appreciate. That said, this is a perceptively observed story and a very pacy read and I galloped through the book, especially as I guessed the main twist in the tale and was keen to see if I was correct. However, I did not predict the final twist, and guessing the first twist didn't really spoil the story. For a debut novel, 'The Callographer' is rather impressive book, but I actually preferred the author's second novel: Pravda also published as: Self Help finding it broader in scope and a more satisfying read.
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on 13 June 2003
Interesting and well-researched, I found this a very enjoyable book and one which stands out a long way from the other 20-something single bloke in London type books that I've read. The plot revolves around Jasper, a professional calligrapher and womaniser, and his life, loves and troubles. There is a story, intrigue, humour (not the banal observation type but properly funny,) poetry, love, and plenty of substance. Throughout the book, the John Donne poems that Jasper has been commissioned to transcribe intertwine themselves with the plot and (without making it too arty) add an extra, slightly thought-provoking element to it.
Suffice to say, if there are further episodes in the life of The Calligrapher, or other books by Edward Docx then I'll be straight out to buy them.
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Jasper Jackson is a young calligrapher in London, commissioned to transcribe and illuminate the love poetry of John Donne for an American media baron, and he soon finds himself living the poems he is transcribing. An energetic and inconstant lover, Jasper has an affinity with Donne, a "serial philanderer" whose poems reflect his changing attitudes toward love and sex as he ages, from his early celebration of variety in lovers, to a later, more mature discovery of the new world which opens when one finds and/or loses "true love."
Jasper invites us into his life from the opening paragraphs, creating interest and suspense by telling us in an intimately casual way that "atrocities" had occurred while he was touring the Tate Gallery of Modern Art. In a farce worthy of Monty Python, a gallery-clearing fire alarm allows him to exchange e-mail addresses with a potential new lover. Some days later, a second, even more slapstick burlesque occurs as Jasper tries to prevent Lucy, his lover of one year, from entering his apartment and discovering his "Tate Modern flirtation" in his bedroom. The humor throughout is broad, bold, and masculine, and the succession of wild scenes is easy to visualize, though female readers may cringe at Jasper's casual duplicity as he lures gullible women into his bed. Eventually, however, Jasper begins to reflect the signs of true love which Donne has described in his poems, a love that may turn out to be his "deal with the Devil."
Jasper's casually vulgar speech and his willingness to share his inner life with the reader are an effective counterbalance to the formality of Donne's poetry, which begins each chapter. The author creates and sustains suspense throughout the novel, leading to an exciting story of relationships, with the end result always in doubt. Docx's descriptions add immeasurably to the pleasure of the action, and his wry commentary on people and places is irresistible--i.e., "talentless men and women" at a club engage in a "ceaseless search for the dwindling plankton of each other's personalities." In view of the cleverness with which Docx reveals Jasper's relationships, the ending of the novel is disappointing, however--contrived, unrealistic, and full of coincidences. The subtlety with which Donne's poetry has provided the intellectual underpinnings of the novel vanishes in a wild, plot-driven grand finale, which feels artificial within the context of this study of Jasper's emotional "growth." Still, the novel is great fun--full of broad humor, sharply observed social commentary, and the vagaries of love and sex across the ages, a stunning debut for a very talented new author. Mary Whipple
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on 3 February 2004
This was the best book that I have read in a long time. But then I really like this kind of humour, sort of dark/witty/super smart. There's all kinds of stuff going on below the surface, which is a sort of inside out, back-to-front, totally engrossing boy meets girl story. I love the energy when the hero discovers his nemesis and the fact that the book doesn't ever abandon its intelligence - even when the action really gets going. And on top of all of that, there are the Donne poems, which surprised me by being interesting! There's a double whammy twist right at the end (one I guessed the other I didn't) and I'm not sure what you are meant to think on the last page ... But the main thing is that this guy writes like a total dream.
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on 8 February 2016
I only came across this book as I had enrolled on a course being given by the author. A great story, very cleverly and stylishly written.
Highly recommended. I've just bought one of Ed's other novel The Devil's Garden on the strength of this.
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on 19 August 2013
Wasn't that impressed, really. It seemed padded, and this may have been its biggest problem. Although the author's voice was fluent and his descriptions had the ring of honesty that zips you right into the narrator's nervous system, many of the scenes dragged because they seemed to have little purpose. Everyday life, holidays and so on just went on too long without a pulse of development - even a tiny one. This meant I started to find the constant references to Donne poems were a contrived gimmick, instead of illuminating (excuse the pun). And of course I felt the most punchy writing was in the economical lines of the poems. Granted, it's a tall order to try to best John Donne, but a pacier story would have stood up better.
I won't give the end away in case you're curious to read it, but I will say that the twist in the last paragraph really irritated me. It was hard to believe and looked as though it had been put in either because an editor wanted a flashy ending or because the author edited the book in two different moods.
But I'm curious to check out the author's other work. So I guess he can't have offended me too much...
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on 12 May 2013
A good example of a book that is easy to read, but not a simplistic read.

The well drawn lead character pulls you in from the first chapter. The plot drives along nicely leading to a satisfying and appropriate conclusion.

I shall be looking for other books by this author.
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on 19 May 2003
A first class read. In a cleverly wrought and rather innovative work, Docx has successfully managed to provide for the reader a critique, almost a guide, for countless young metropolitan combatants (so if that's you, then you NEED to read this!) prepared to risk it all in search of that elusive combination of a stylish and independent lifestyle in the city with the partner of their dreams. His narrative is quick-witted and seriously funny, full of the glorious ironies, common obstacles and hapless pitfalls that beset the modern-day urban lover, whose chief weapon, the ruthless pursuit of self gratification, can ultimately take him only half-way to happiness.
The hero of the piece is Jasper Jackson, a suave and well-connected twenty-something, whose unusual chosen profession as a calligrapher provides an original platform for the author to expound his satire of life in the city. A real gem is the fleeting character assassination of those young media/political types (see especially the dinner party fiasco) whose self-absorbed, over confident but ultimately inept characters are a sight all too common in London today. Of this the author is acutely aware, but the book itself transcends their dullness and, by rising above it all, provides a healthier, fresher alternative.
The novel is unique, to my knowledge, and for this the author deserves much credit, in combining a fast-moving plot with an informed, well researched yet personal approach to the poetry of John Donne, the 16th Century contemporary of Shakespeare, whose timeless themes run throughout the book (he is much quoted) and turn out to be as relevant to relationships now as they were nearly five centuries ago. One of the features of the book is the author's deconstruction of this poetry which provides valuable instruction for the reader without detracting from the main plot. Not easily done. The prose is highly polished and urbane, the story original with a never-saw-that-coming twist in the tail. This will be the best novel you'll read this year.
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