The Poet by Louisa Reid (Blog Tour Review)

The Poet lured me with the prospect of a novel in verse (Girl, Woman, Other and Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile are two others I would recommend) and the theme of a female poet caught up in a destructive relationship with her former professor. Emma Eliot published a poetry collection at age 21 before embarking on an abandoned PhD on Charlotte Mew. Tom Abbot, a charming Oxford don in his early forties, left his wife and daughters for her, but Emma has found that the housewife existence doesn’t suit her and longs to return to academia. Tom relies on Emma to boost his ego, play stepmum and help him with his publications, but scorns her working-class upbringing and can’t conceive of her having her own life and desires.

Tom’s students and ex-wife commiserate with Emma over his arrogance, but in the end it’s up to her whether she’ll break free. She tells her story of betrayal, gaslighting and the search for revenge in free verse that flows effortlessly. Sometimes her words are addressed to Tom:

Miles of misunderstanding waver

between us

 

Anything would be better than the stink

of your

superiority.

– and other times to the reader.

Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man

who thinks he has the right to

a woman’s work –

her words

and womb –

and everything else.

 

if the bed seems too big

then perhaps that is because I have shrunk

to fit the space,

or am lost in the wasteland of what was.

There are a few poetry in-jokes like that one, with Emma quoting Emily Dickinson and Tom likening her early work to Sylvia Plath’s. Usually this feels like reading fiction rather than poetry, though the occasional passage where alliteration and internal rhymes bloom remind you that Emma is meant to be an accomplished poet.

I wanted to sit in a book-lined room

wombed in words.

I didn’t see the tomb that waited

for the woman

who underrated herself.

That said, I didn’t particularly rate this qua poetry, and the storytelling style wasn’t really enough to make a rather thin story stand out. Still, I’d recommend it to poetry-phobes, as well as to readers of The Wife by Meg Wolitzer and especially Here Is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan (who, like Reid, wrote YA fiction before producing an adult novel in verse).


My thanks to Doubleday and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for my proof copy for review.

 

I was delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Poet. See below for details of where other reviews have appeared or will be appearing soon.

10 responses

  1. The excerpts don’t sound like the novel is saying a whooooole lot in a new way (the “mediocre white man” line is, okay, true, but neither new nor interesting)–which seems fatal for believability with a main character who’s meant to be an exceptional poet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed — not really breaking much new ground. Still, it was a super-quick and fairly enjoyable read. Do you find your customers resistant to novels in verse?

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      1. Not especially, actually – some of them seem to find it a good way in to poetry!

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      2. Fab! The second my book club heard Girl Woman Other was in verse (of sorts) they wouldn’t touch it.

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  2. I am a poetry-phobe and really enjoyed this one – it was my first novel in verse, so don’t have a lot to compare it to, but I found it v accessible in a way I didn’t expect to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great to hear! I do think this style is a way of drawing in people who wouldn’t normally read poetry.

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  3. I’d give this a go if it crossed my path, but probably wouldn’t hunt for it very hard on the strength of your review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fair enough! It was a 3* read for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for supporting the blog tour

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worries. Thanks for your hard work preparing the tour!

      Like

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