April 23rd 1982, a sixty-seven year old Tahitian woman writes a letter to a stranger hoping for information about the father she never knew, the famous poet, Rupert Brooke. This letter is passed to ninety year old Nell Golightly, a former chambermaid at The Orchard Tea Gardens where Rupert used to lodge. Through the eyes of seventeen year old Nell and Rupert we see a friendship of equals develop.
The Great Lover is the first book by Jill Dawson that I have read, but I was very impressed by her writing. I often find that writer’s struggle to bring a historical character to life, relying too much on accounts of the person while they were alive without bringing elements of their own imagination to the story that bring the character to life, which results in a flat, stereotype. This was not the case here. Dawson’s Brooke is by turns complex and childish; self-assured but vulnerable; brilliant yet flawed. Her creations are just as life like, my especial favourite being the intelligent and strong willed Nell Golightly, who defies the reader’s expectations by being strongly opposed to the women’s suffrage movement- she feels that women should have equality as women, and not so they can act as moral compasses for men.
A lovely novel which tells the story of one of England’s most famous poets sympathetically, without the vulgarity which is resorted to in novels such as The Children’s Book, I especially liked the imagined insight that the reader was given into Brooke’s poetic inspiration. This would make the perfect weekend or beach read- especially for the scenes set in exotic Tahiti.