Rupert. . . It is the first time I’ve said his name. I know without looking up that the word has drawn him like a hook and that he is staring straight at me. I can tell from the way the bees huddle in the corner of their frames like gathering moss, deep and brown and heaving, that some power from him is transmitting itself to me, to the very air around us. Even the sweetest creature on this earth can be dangerous, Father used to say, if you make it buzz too hard. Father, Father – you were never here to teach me. What do I do now?
Ninety-year old Nell Golightly receives a letter from the daughter of famous but long-dead poet, Rupert Brooke. In the letter, the woman asks for personal information about Brooke, a man she never had a chance to know. As a young adult, Nell worked at a tea garden that Brooke frequent and though of different social classes, came to know Brooke personally. Nell’s letter and the memories it brings forward are just half of Jill Dawson’s The Great Lover, the fictional account of the life of British poet Rupert Brooke.
The book is also told from Rupert’s perspective. Rupert Brooke is a young poet who loses both his father and brother in a short period of time. Doubtful of his talent, unfocused, forever wandering from place to place, in several relationships at the same time, Rupert is a complex person. But for all his complexity, it wasn’t enough to interest me in his story.
Surprisingly I found myself more interested in the story of Nell. Nell Golightly is the oldest of five siblings. Orphaned after the loss of her father, the nineteen year old girl accepts a job at a tea garden as a way to take care of her much younger siblings. There she meets Rupert, a young charming poet who swims naked in a nearby river and takes up lovers both male and female. Nell is the exact opposite of Rupert. Practical, caring, and patient, she sees Rupert for who he really is underneath the sarcasm and flamboyance. They have a small affair and though many readers probably hope for the two to be together, I wanted Nell to find someone more dependable than a man who loves for love’s sake.
One of the things I love about The Great Lover is all the historical facts that the author gives reader. Readers learn details about the suffragist movement in the early 1900s, how women were treated in prison if arrested for protesting for women’s rights, the Poor Law reform, and what happens to those who cannot work for whatever reasons. I found myself wanting to know more about the time period and the working class people that Nell interacted with everyday.
Overall The Great Lover was entertaining and absorbing read that I’m glad I read.