Should Your Book Club Read The Calligrapher by Edward Docx?

This book was recommended to me by one of my favorite bloggers to use for my Literary Masters book groups.  Although I don’t think I’ll be putting it on my list for next season, I can highly recommend the book for your individual reading pleasure, and you may even enjoy a rousing discussion about it with your personal book club.

Quick plot overview:
The narrator, Jasper Jackson, is a calligrapher by profession.  Living in north London, Jasper has been commissioned by a wealthy American media tycoon to transcribe thirty poems from John Donne’s Songs and Sonnets.  Now if you know little to nothing about calligraphy and the same amount about Donne and his poetry, you are in for a treat.  More about that later, however.

Jasper Jackson is a bit of a womanizer as it turns out, and he doesn’t restrict himself to one amour at a time.  Constancy seems to be a bit of a problem for Jasper.  But then again, Jasper hasn’t really found his true love yet.  Until one day, when he is gazing out his window onto the garden below, where he spies a woman so outrageously beautiful, he compares her to Helen of Troy.  He also calls her, for lack of the words to do her true justice, a “real hottie.”  Immediately he is smitten, no make that obsessed, and it becomes his sole ambition to meet her–and more.

Now, at the start of every chapter, there’s a poem by John Donne, and even if you’ve never read his poetry, you can figure out the gist of what it means and then, and this is the clever part, you will know what’s going to happen in that chapter.  If the way I’ve just described it makes it sound corny or cheesy, that’s my fault because it’s really done well.  Occasionally within a chapter Jasper discusses Donne’s poetry and what it means, or how difficult it is to definitively pin down, but this never comes across as heavy-handed.  Instead, I found myself enjoying learning a bit about this 17th century poet and his work.

This novel is quite funny at times, although at first I felt like I was reading a guy’s novel (I couldn’t get too excited about Jasper’s musings about woman and his wooing of them) and wondered if I would stick with it.  I’m glad I did, not only because it rapidly improved and then easily hooked me, but also because there’s a couple of unexpected twists in the story that lend it depth.  And when considered in the broader context that encompasses Donne’s poetry, one can see how these twists make a lot of sense.  It makes for a very clever, or as the Brits say, a brilliant package.

I highly recommend this book for a fun literary read, and I think most book clubs will find enough in it to carry an evening’s conversation.  I will be keeping my eyes open for more Edward Docx for sure.

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