Emma is 25 and a promising poet and PhD student at Oxford. She is researching into a long forgotten female poet named Charlotte Mew whose work she uncovered and analyses. When she, the girl from the north and a middle-class family, came to the prestigious college, she felt like not belonging, her accent revealed her background, but her professor Tom saw something in her. He didn’t tell her that he was still married with kids and she didn’t mind. Now, years later, she finds herself in a toxic relationship. The renowned professor knew how to manipulate the young woman with low self-esteem doubting herself. Despite the success with her own poems, he can exert control over her, her thinking and cleverly gaslights her. He goes even further until she reaches a point where she has to decide to either give up herself or fight.
Louisa Reid’s novel “The Poet” is the portrait of a young woman who encountered the wrong man at the wrong time. She falls for her teacher who is charming, who sparks something in her, who makes her feel special and talented. Yet, she does not realise at which point this positive energy turns into the negative and when his second face is revealed. The power he has over her, the power his position attributes him, bring her into an inferior position from which it is hard to be believed and to escape.
The arrangement of power the author chooses is well-known: male vs. female, older vs. younger, rich background vs. middle class, academic vs. working class. All factors play out for Tom and from the start put him into the position of control. Emma, young and naive, is only too eager to succumb to it since she falls for his intellect and charm. He is idolised by students as well as his colleagues, quite naturally she is flattered by his attention.
On the other hand, we have the manipulative scholars who knows exactly what makes his female students tick. He has noticed Emma’s talent and knows how to profit from it. Systematically, he makes her feel inferior, stresses her weak points – her background, her family, the lack of money – keeps her from progressing with her work. He makes himself the Ubermensch in her view and manages to keep her close as he needs her, too. Not emotionally, but in a very different way.
Wonderfully written in verse and yet, it reads like a novel. Heart-wrenching at times, analytical at others the book immediately seduces and keeps you reading on.