Title: Losing Nelson
Publisher: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, New York
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hard Cover
Book Condition: Fine
Dust Jacket Condition: Fine
Signed: Signed by Author
Edition: First Edition
First U.S. edition; first printing, full number line. Signed in blue ink by the author on a Nan A. Talese/Doubleday bookplate on the front endpaper: "Barry Unsworth." A Booker Prize nominated novel about a biographer's obsession with the life of the British admiral Horatio Nelson. Book is tight, square, and unmarked; the dust jacket is not price-clipped (original price $23.95). Brodart protected. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 003613
Synopsis: 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 his thesis. 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.
Review: Perched high atop his pedestal in London, Admiral Horatio Nelson has remained one of the loftiest icons of English nationalism. Now, however, he has been seriously rattled by Barry Unsworth's Losing Nelson, a gripping study of the dark side of heroism and hero worship. In the basement of his large, anonymous North London house, Charles Cleasby obsessively reenacts the admiral's every military maneuver: "Usually when we fought these battles I had a feeling of fulfilment, they brought me closer to him..." Cleasby's admiration also extends upstairs--to his life's work, a biography of the great man. His only assistant in his heroic struggle is Miss Lily (real name, Lilian Butler), a hired secretary who carefully transcribes his painstaking pages. Cleasby wants nothing better than to rescue Nelson from the revisionist clutches of unpatriotic academic cynics. Alas, his passion soon reveals a sinister side, as he declares that he is in fact the admiral's twin:
I will say what I think angels are. They can be dark or bright, but they all have the gift of spontaneity, of creating themselves anew. This is a pure form of energy, and Horatio was winged with it. All the same, angels are not complete, they need their counterparts, the dark needs the bright, the hidden needs the open, and vice versa. Sometimes they meet and recognize each other. Sometimes, as with Horatio and me, the pairing occurs over spaces of time or distance. He became a bright angel on February 14, 1797, during the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. I became his dark twin on September 9, 1997, when I too broke the line.As the book builds to its inexorable climax--and Cleasby's only solace is his amanuensis-- Losing Nelson confirms Unsworth as one of England's most elegant, understated novelists. His historical grasp of Nelson is outstanding. But his book really excels, and also profoundly disturbs, in its exploration of the tarnished angels of patriotism. --Jerry Brotton
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