Louisa Reid – The Poet

Louisa Reid – The Poet

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.   

Sebastian Faulks – Paris Echo

Sebastian Faulks – Paris Echo

Tariq is 19 when he finds his Moroccan home too small, too far away from the real world. Paris is the place he wants to be, not just because of the dreams of the city of lights he has, but also to follow his deceased mother’s traces who was born and raised there. On his way, he meets a young girl and together they arrive in the French capital without any place to stay or any idea of how to earn money. Hannah, an American researcher twice their age, accommodates them; what was meant as an arrangement just for a couple of days becomes a cohabitation for months in which Tariq not only discovers that he is not only ignorant of Europe’s history, but also of the struggles between France and its former colonies in northern Africa. But also Hannah not only makes progress in her work on women in the second World War, but also in her personal love life.

I was eager to read Sebastian Fault’s novel because seeing the French history through the eyes of a Moroccan teenager seemed to be quite an interesting perspective. The author certainly has chosen quite a unique approach to history, since it is mainly strangers who do not actually have a family bond or personal connection to what has happened and thus, can look at things a bit more freely.

What I liked best was actually Tariq’s education through the metro, especially since he didn’t learn because he was told to, but because he felt a need and wanted to. This informal kind of education lead to a lot more depth than any formal teaching could ever have provided. And it clearly showed that this kind of knowledge has a certain relevance in everyday life and it not just dusty knowledge of no practical use.

Even though the whole set-up of the novel was not really authentic – which middle-aged American woman would ever house a refugee in her expensive Parisian flat and how could a Moroccan teenager move around Paris without ever being eyed closely by the police or the people around him – I enjoyed reading it, especially since the narration of the past events was much more inspiring than the plot set in the present.