That W.B Yeats described him as ‘the handsomest young man in England’? That he was part of a circle that included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, the painter Augustus John, James and Lytton Strachey? That he died young, on his way to Gallipoli and was thereafter taken up as a national icon, the golden boy poet of the First World War? Or possibly only that he wrote the lines: ‘If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England…’
…proof that presently its author is one of the finest practitioners of the literary historical novel…and that this is her best novel yet.
Siobhan Harvey, New Zealand Dominion Post
This captivating novel gives voice to Rupert Brooke himself in a tale of mutual fascination and inner turmoil, set at a time of great social unrest. Revealing a man far more complex and radical than legend suggests, it powerfully coveys the allure and curse of charisma.
Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan Book Club
…a daring experiment, and one whose mood, setting and eccentricities linger in the mind.
Joanna Briscoe, The Guardian
This brilliant, complicated man is the centre of Jill Dawson’s The Great Lover, and while she draws extensively on historical records of Brooke and his contemporaries, it is her decisions as a novelist that make this account of his life fascinating as well as faithful.
Helen Dunmore, The Times
Dawson has pulled off the risky gamble of reimagining history.
The New Statesman
This is a seductive book, evocative and well paced, the tale split between Brooke and Nell, the two narrative voices strong, distinctive and consistent.
Scotland on Sunday
The speed and rhythms of rural life, and the greater sense of the wider world of pre-war turbulence, of suffragettes laying siege to the status quo, and artists’ coteries flouting convention – all this is rendered so unfussily, and in writing polished for clarity, not dazzling effect, that the reading becomes an almost physical pleasure.
Dawson has followed Brooke’s lead, and her moving, intelligent, beautifully written and hugely enjoyable novel is alive with vivid descriptions of the world her characters inhabit.
Peter Parker, Sunday Times
This is a compelling portrait of a failed love affair and of a damaged man who is so cut off from the world that, to paraphrase the book’s epigraph from DW Winnicott, he cannot allow himself to be found by those around him.
Lorna Bradbury, Daily Telegraph
To translate this well-known figure into a novel, with all his contradictions, requires capacious knowledge and a gifted imagination. Fiction and fact are here blended with sureness and subtlety.
Jill Dawson has created a convincing world of huge pathos; a subtle, evocative anti-fairy-tale of doomed youth by one of Britain’s most subtle and accomplished writers.
Waterstone’s Books Quarterly
Dripping with deliciously sensual allsuions to beekeeping, this is an elegantly entwined story of self-discovery and wild, poetic love.
The Great Lover is not only engaging and seductive, it is also clever, witty and artfully designed.
Times Literary Supplement
Nell is a wonderfully vivid creation: resilient, intelligent and heart-breakingly innocent, she represents the other, working-class England that often gets overlooked in accounts of ‘giddy young people sleep-walking towards war’ as Dawson puts it.
Dawson deftly works endless ironies into the gaps between these two narratives, and manages not only an impressive evocation of Brooke’s milieu but a compelling reassessment of a poet often dismissed by modern readers as a poster boy for limp-wristed, tea-sipping Toyrism.
The Great Lover was published by Sceptre in January 2009.