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The Calligrapher


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About the Author

Edward Docx is a prize-winning British writer. His first novel, The Calligrapher, was short-listed for both the William Saroyan prize and the Guilford Prize. The San Francisco Chronicle called it a best debut book of the year. This was followed by Pravda (2007, entitled Self Help in the UK), which was long-listed for the Man-Booker Prize (2007) and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (2007). His third novel was The Devil's Garden (2011), now in production with Mandabach Productions. His latest novel Let Go My Hand was published in 2017.


It takes sangfroid and skill to write a contemporary love story featuring the metaphysical poetry of John Donne and the art of calligraphy, but British writer Docx, in his debut novel, carries it off with wit and sophistication. His protagonist, Jasper Jackson, is a Londoner whose current job is to transcribe the Songs and Sonnets of John Donne for a wealthy client. Like Donne, Jasper is also a relentless womanizer, a charming cad who lives for love affairs. When the woman of his dreams appears in his own garden, Jasper succumbs to real love for the first time and slowly begins to realize what it feels like to be the pursuer rather than the pursued. In a clever reversal of chick-lit roles, the lovely Madeleine, a travel journalist, plays the part of the rakes of yore, while Jasper pours his woes into the willing ear of his best friend. There are many contrasts here, between ancient art and contemporary manners, between ribald conversation and metaphysical elegance of expression, between the intellectual and the erotic. Docx prefaces each chapter with the sonnet Jasper is working on, and close reading reveals that the subject of each poem corresponds to Jasper's emotional state. Using sites in London, Rome and New York, he allows Jasper to fulminate about the meretricious standards of 21st-century culture (scenes in the Tate Modern are deliciously on target). Readers of conventional romantic comedy may find more to chew on here than they're expecting, but the double surprises that end the narrative are diabolically satisfying. Foreign rights sold in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden. (Oct. 14) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

'A wonderful novel ... Achieves the rare feat of being bookish and sussed in the same breath.' Matt Beaumont 'Fascinating and very funny. Jasper Jackson is a fine creation.' Niall Griffiths

Who knew that John Donne would have so much to say about 21st-century disaffection? Docx proves it in this brilliant debut, which focuses on a London-based calligrapher named Jasper who slips amiably from amour to amour until he is finally bested by a woman perhaps more amoral than he. Jasper catches sight of Madeleine sunning herself in the communal garden and becomes immediately obsessed. He's just made a mess of breaking up with Lucy, whose connection to Madeleine is delicately foreshadowed and yet effectively and rather shockingly revealed in the book's closing pages. In the meantime, Jasper has an assignment from a wealthy New Yorker to transcribe Donne's Songs and Sonnets, whose verses are integrated into Docx's opalescent prose and give him his theme: our inconstancy in life and love. Docx manages to comment astutely on Donne's poetry while crafting a thoroughly modern entertainment on hip young Londoners and a cautionary tale on our failure to think through our beliefs. That's no small accomplishment. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/03; see "Must-Reads for Fall," p. 37-Ed.]-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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