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Losing Nelsonby Barry Unsworth
Synopses & Reviews
Barry Unsworth, author of the Booker Prize-winning Sacred Hunger and the bestselling Morality Play, has long established his genius for both historical narrative and for sharply observed, fantastically odd characters and stories. In Losing Nelson, Unsworth's most brilliantly imagined novel yet and a nominee for the Booker Prize, he has enlisted all these proven talents in a way unprecedented in his earlier work.
Every day, Charles Cleasby relives the events of Lord Horatio Nelson's life. He holds no regard for year-by-year chronology, so his life is a bustle of anniversaries: a political confrontation in 1797, for instance, might be followed immediately by a climactic sea battle in 1805. He reenacts the battles in his basement on a huge blue-glass table, moving the perfectly rendered ships that represent Nelson's Royal Navy and its enemies, thus reliving Nelson's triumphs.
Losing Nelson is a novel of obsession, the story of a man unable to see himself separately from the hero he mistakenly idolizes. Cleasby is, in fact, a Nelson biographer run amok. He is convinced that Nelson — Britain's greatest admiral, who finally defeated Napoleon, and lost his own life, in the Battle of Trafalgar — is the perfect hero, but in his research he has come upon an incident of horrifying brutality in Nelson's military career that simply stumps all attempts at glorification.
Admiral Nelson, faults and all, is a hero to many, but to Cleasby he is something more. Cleasby has come to think of himself as Nelson's dark side, the fallible human flip-side of the perfect man. And so Nelson's transgression represents more than just a chink in histhesis. Further, Cleasby's new assistant, Miss Lily of Avon Secretarial Services, insists on maintaining a running criticism of Nelson as she takes dictation, not to mention the objections she voices to the isolated, sheltered way Cleasby lives his life. Something has to give, and give it does — in the most astonishing and entertaining of ways.
"Unsworth's control of his material...in what is essentially a highly literate suspense novel, are supreme here....The book's surprise ending...seems therefore all the more cruelly ironic, and probably the nastiest twist of any in recent fiction." Publishers Weekly
"Losing Nelson may be Barry Unsworth's best book to date; it is accomplished, effective, exciting and intelligent...Information is cunningly deployed, the pace perfectly controlled, the mood of zealous desperation, of exhilarated misery, is heightened from page to page." The Sunday Times
"Wonderful and breathtaking....It is a book of grace and meditative elegance, and of great moral seriousness." The New York Times Book Review
"Though filled with factual detail about Nelson and his time, this cunningly bizarre novel is more a psychological thriller than a work of historical fiction." Library Journal
"Psychodrama and historical suspense align to extraordinary effect here, entwining the two in a denouement both stunning and unspeakably sad." Kirkus Reviews
"Unsworth offers a new interpretation of 'historical fiction'." Booklist
A novel of obsession, this is the story of a man unable to see himself separately from the hero he mistakenly idolizes — Lord Horatio Nelson, Britain's greatest admiral.
About the Author
Barry Unsworth won the Booker Prize in 1992 for Sacred Hunger; his next novel, Morality Play, was a Booker nominee and a bestseller in both the United States and Great Britain. His other novels include After Hannibal, The Hide, and Pascali's Island, which was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize and was made into a feature film. He lives in Umbria with his wife and recently held the position of Visiting Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.
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