The Great Lover: A Novel
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The Great Lover: A Novel

3.11 of 5 stars 3.11  ·  rating details  ·  357 ratings  ·  78 reviews
In 1909, sixteen-year-old Nell Golightly is a housemaid at a popular tea garden near Cambridge University, and Rupert Brooke, a new tenant, is already causing a stir with his boyish good looks and habit of swimming naked in nearby Byron's Pool. Despite her good sense, Nell seems to be falling under the radical young poet's spell, even though Brooke apparently adores no one...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published June 1st 2010 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2009)
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The Great Lover is the fictionalised account of five years in the life of the poet Rupert Brooke. These are years during which Brooke published his first volume of poetry, had a nervous breakdown and an affair with a Polynesian woman on a South Sea island.

The viewpoint is shared between Ruupert himself and Nell, a maid at a tea room in Grantchester who is in love with him. Actual letters and lines of poetry are cleverly woven into the narrative, though the character of Nell is entirely fictional...more
Sometimes reviewing books can be a solitary and frightening experience. When I ordered The Great Lover, I knew I was taking a risk. I’d first contacted Jill Dawson to tell her how much I’d admired her novels Wild Boy and Fred and Edie, and we’d sort of kept in touch, so what was I to say if I didn’t feel the same about The Great Lover?

There was already a strike against it in my mind. Rupert Brooke, who is one of the two central characters in the novel, has always been my least favourite of that...more
Katie Grainger
There were many things I really enjoyed about this novel depicting the life of Rupert Brooke. It is well researched, atmospheric and ultimately clever. Jill Dawson has taken the letters, poems and prose of Rupert Brooke and made him into her own character. In stark contrast to Rupert is Nell Golightly who leaves her home in the Fens to become a maid at The Old Vicarage where Rupert is staying. Nell falls for Brooke in the same way that all men and women seem to but from the start she recognises...more
"Novelists thrive on the gaps in a story, the murky places that only imagination can illuminate." (...taken from Jill Dawson's website). - Before reading this novel I wasn't aware of Rupert Brooke's life - all I knew was the intensely moving war poems I'd studied at school and the fact that he died early of septicaemia, which seemed an anti-climax for a heroic and patriotic war poet! - I'm therefore extremely grateful for Jill Dawson's imaginative depiction of the 'real' Brooke.

What I enjoyed mo...more
I hadn't previously read any novels by Jill Dawson - I read this one quickly in a day and really enjoyed it. It's a fictionalised account of Rupert Brooke's time living at the Orchard Tea Gardens in Grantchester, and an imaginary affair with the heroine, Nell, a young maid who has grown up in a remote Fens village as a trainee beekeeper. (And is there honey still for tea?) The story is alternately told by Nell and Brooke -I was surprised to discover from the notes at the back that a long section...more
Aunty Janet
I re-read this novel recently as I was to visit the Orchard Tea Rooms in Grantchester, where the book is partly set; a beautiful place full of history. The story is based loosely on letters written by the Poet Rupert Brooke.
''In her old age, Nell Golightly receives a strange letter. A Tahitian woman, claiming to be the daughter of the poet Rupert Brooke, writes to ask her to describe him – his voice, his smell, how it felt to hold him. And to explain why all of England remembered him…

Turning her...more
This was undoubtedly beautifully written but the whole thing was just a little, well, dull. Nothing happened to raise my pulse or level of interest and I didn't really care about any of the characters. Lucky to get a 3!
Students of English literature learn of poet Rupert Brooke through his famous works The Old Vicarage, Grantchester (1912) and The Soldier (1914), written on his way to war. Brooke never made it to the battlefield, dying of sepsis from a mosquito bite, on a French hospital ship in the Aegean Sea in 1915, yet he is considered the first of the famous WWI poets. Dying at the age of 27, Brooke led an adventurous life from the South Seas to North America, leaving trails of heartbroken women, and some...more
April, 1982. Ninety year old Nell Golightly receives a surprising letter from Tahiti. A 67 year old woman would like to know something of her father, whom she never met. Somehow her letter finds its way to Nell, who worked as a maid, many years ago, at the Orchard House in Grantchester where the lady's father lived for a time. The man she is inquiring about is the English poet, Rupert Brooke.

This letter forms the basis for Nell's story. Beginning in 1909, she relates her life as a young woman wo...more
Review for the unabridged audio version.

This is a difficult book to review, given that it is based on the life of a poet who lived early last century (1887 - 1915). It is therefore a bit pointless to bemoan the fact that he appeared entierly self-centred and sexually obsessed, presumably that is how he was, but it didn't make for enjoyable listening. This is another audiobook that I may well have abandoned if it had been a regular book.

Rupert Brooke lived a relatively brief life, dying from sept...more
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This sixth novel by Orange Prize-nominated author Jill Dawson concerns one of England's most iconic poets -- Rupert Brooke, famous for his World War I poem The Soldier ("If I should die, think only this of me:/That there's some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England.")

He is also remembered as being a war poet who never saw battle -- as a character notes early on in the novel, "Of course he didn't even die in action, and for some people, septicimia from a mosquito bite wasn't the righ...more
Rupert Brooke seems a fascinating man and a ripe topic for a book. His fluid sexuality and controversial beliefs beg to be explored. The Great Lover doesn't shy away from Brooke's non-traditional life, and through the combination of Brooke's own words and Dawson's imagination, a portrait of a rather eccentric man is formed.

The book is told through two characters, Rupert and Nell, with alternating passages. The use of dual perspective to tell a story can be elegant and revealing or it can be arti...more
I knew nothing of Rupert Brooke before starting this novel and not much about the politics and social movements in British society in the years before World War I. There are a lot of things I had to look up in Wikipedia just to make some sense of what was going on; the Fabian Society, the Bloomsbury group, just a basic bio of Brooke's himself. I found so many of the references to be about things I knew nothing of that it interrupted the flow of the story quite a bit. I think if you have read a b...more
This is a very interesting book, though it moves at a very gentle pace and so a reader would need to be in the right frame of mind to read it. Its about the poet Rupert Brooke but it is not necessary to know much about him or his work, or even to enjoy poetry much to get a lot out of this novel. It might be less enjoyable and interesting if you don't have any background knowledge about writers, history or literature of early twentieth century England, though.

It's interesting to read the notes a...more
Debra Watkins
Oh gosh, I had such high hopes for this book but now that I've finished it I wonder if my expectations weren't a tad too high. I don't like to admonish authors and I don't like writing bad reviews and in with this book I feel I have to say something, however diplomatic. I have to confess I felt squeamish reading about Rupert Brooke and his love affair with Katherine (Ka) Cox, Cathleen Nesbit, et al and the fictional character of the book, Nellie Golightly. I just couldn't let go of the fact that...more
Claudia Douris
Oh dear Ms. is it that I have never ready any of your work prior to this...You are a talented and gifted writer and one of the rare authors who has been able to reach deep inside me and touch the depths of my soul. Your interpretation of the poet Rupert Brooke was moving, intelligent and so beautifully written.....I am not sure how I stumbled upon this book but am so thankful that I did. BRAVO!!!!!

The Soldier
Rupert Brooke
If I should think only this of me.
That there's some corner of...more
Carly Thompson
The Great Lover is a fictional account of the last few years in the life of the poet Rupert Brooke. The novel alternates between two first person narrations, that of Brooke and the other of a fictitious maid, Nell Golightly, who works at a home where Brooke was a tenant. I felt that Dawson did an excellent job of creating a tormented, sensitive, talented character in her characterization of Brooke. Brooke's suffering (particularly his unease with his sexuality and the social/sexual mores of his...more
Such a great title - I was intrigued to discover what lay behind it.

This story is a fictionalised account of the poet Rupert Bourke. Mainly his life in the five years leading up to the first world war. A peripheral member of the Fabian society and the Bloomsbury group with a number of published poetry works. I found some of the commentary on this period delightful, especially those which involve Nellie Golightly (mmm an interesting choice of name in relation to the title....). Who is the housem...more
Nov 05, 2010 Charity rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Poetry Fans; Great Lovers
Shelves: first-reads, brit-lit
Admittedly, I think I might have found this selection much more interesting had I been more familiar with the poet Rupert Brooke beforehand. I wouldn't say that it is necessary to have advance knowledge of the subject, but it would certainly be helpful. That being said, I thought that a great portion of the book was extremely engaging...I was far from bored! (There is plenty of shagging; the title doesn't lie.) But, there were a few meh moments where my attention began to wane. Overall, can't sa...more
Jenna Gall
I thought the story line was great but didn't quite enjoy Rupert Brook's character. He did love himself and he did enjoy other people falling in love with him. I also thought he couldn't make up his mind if he was into men or women. He could be quite inferiating! I did however, enjoy Nell's character. She was strong in her beliefs. I was glad that she married someone that treated her well instead of Rupert. I thought that Rupert didn't have a good idea about marriage and therefore shouldn't get...more
The Great Lover is a fictionalized account of the poet Rupert Brooke� s life from 1909-1914. Using his letters and poetry as a base, it interweaves narration by Brooke with that of Nell, a maid at the Orchard in Grantchester, where Brooke and some other well-known people of that era (including Virginia Woolf) went to stay. The Great Lover describes Brooke� s personal and artistic doubts and uses Nell as a character to react to those as well as some of the issues of the period, including women� s...more
I like Rupert Brooke, first disclosure. That helps with this novel, as does some knowledge about his life and relationships (despite the fact that the one that emerges as the most compelling is the fictional romance with Nell, the other "voice" in the book). Dawson doesn't spare Brooke the poseur, but for me, he became immensely sympathetic. I can remember being his age, and it seems to me that she gets the self-doubt and striving for fame exactly right. There is a passage in which Brooke discus...more
I have been fascinated by Rupert Brooke since teenage days and so was eager to read this novel. It's a fictionalised account of Brooke's time in Grantchester and the South Seas related by two narrators, himself and a maid called Nell who, like many others, is bewitched by this 'golden haired Apollo'. Although the writer, Jill Dawson, herself says in her notes, the Rupert in the novel is only 'her' Rupert, her interpretation of him as glimpsed in his writings, letters, poems, biographies etc, i t...more
Pamela Todd
The Great Lover follows the pre-war years of the poet Rupert Brooke and his stay at the Orchard and how his stay changes the life of the maid Nell.

Told primarily from Nell's perspective and Rupert's, the chemistry between the pair threatens to alight the page. Though a work of fiction, and the author has made up the character of Nell, you cannot help but imagine their's was a true story.

Jill Dawson captures the essence of Brooke for the world to fall in love with, sympathise with and generally...more
An engaging fictionalized but well-researched story following the life of the English poet Rupert Brooke in the few years before the butchery of WWI. “The Great Lover” deals with a generation’s struggle to find meaning in a society on the brink of catastrophe and upheaval; a population in which accepted social groups will be forever transformed, class distinctions are no longer clearly defined, and relationships between the sexes will be less clear-cut. The “real” character of Rupert Brooke and...more
Jane Massy
Abandoned a third in - a book club read that did not appeal. Light weight and fails to stand up beside great work written about similar times and people such as Pat Barker's Trilogy - which was excellent.
An impressive and moving read. Dawson captures the essential nature of both the main characters in the book - Nell Golightly and Rupert Brooke - with hard-headed sympathy and great novelistic skill, finding exactly the right tone and lexis for two such different voices (and stretching Nell's just enough when necessary to accommodate the unexpected and, previously, unutterable). I had initial doubts about the way in which the framing device - Nell's account - was expanded to include Brooke's word...more
Tattered Cover Book Store
Joe says:

Rupert Brooke wanted to be the Great Lover. He was adored by women and men, but he seemed to love only the idea of love. Based on a true story, pieced together from letters and stories, this novel is a delight to read. The action takes place in England, just prior to the Great War and captures a world that was about to end... the last vestiges of the British Empire. It took me a little bit to get into the language of the book, but by the time I got into it, I was hooked, and Jill Dawson...more
Sally Whitehead
Whilst I appreciate that this is a really well crafted, and well imagined fictionalised account of Rupert Brook's life, I just found the whole thing a bit of a chore. Brook himself was an eminently dislikable character and I found him to arrogant, pompous, self indulgent and rather petulant. I had hoped that the more earthy character of Nell would sustain my interest and engage me, but it wasn't to be. There was also a spelling mistake towards the end when "just desserts" was written as "just de...more
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Jill Dawson was born in Durham and grew up in Staffordshire, Essex and Yorkshire. She read American Studies at the University of Nottingham, then took a series of short-term jobs in London before studying for an MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. In 1997 she was the British Council Writing Fellow at Amherst College, Massachussets.

Her writing life began as a poet, her poems being publish...more
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