Saturday, August 29, 2015
Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut
Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Europa Editions (Sept. 2014)
This book is a fictional exploration of the life of one of Britain's finest novelists. It illuminates E M Forster's life in a way that makes you feel on intimate terms with Forster, knowing his thoughts and needs as keenly as your own. “Arctic Summer” is in fact the name of an incomplete novel written by E.M. Forster in 1912/13 but published only in 2003; and Galgut uses its title for his novel about the famous author. The story is well researched and much of the content, even word-for-word dialog, was taken from Forster’s diaries.
The first hundred pages or so explores Forster’s life growing up in England, showcasing his awakening homosexuality, his tormented and unconsummated relationships, and being constrain by proper English society. During this time he also meets the love of his life, an Indian student, Masood, much younger than himself. I had a tough time trudging through this section of the book. I found it well written, but it lacked action, and I found it exceedingly dull. I almost gave up on it.
Once Forester traveled to India, Egypt (where he had his first sexual affair), and again to India, my interest in the story skyrocketed. Beautifully woven into his travels are the details of his life that laid the foundation of his masterpiece A Passage to India. Galgut is a master at constructing realistic and compelling landscapes, from inhibiting England to war torn Cairo to exotically vibrant India. He gives these locations the same kind of fragile humanity that he gives Forester.
Galgut’s prose blends perfectly the spare and the lyrical, often letting gentle humor shine through. His pacing is flawless. I was swept up into his cadences, and was never overburdened with needless detail. My senses were awakened to sensory impressions that were visceral.
A lovely and interesting story, one of the most satisfying reads I’ve enjoyed in years. Anyone who enjoys a rich blend of romance, adventure, and exploring exotic locations will no doubt fine much to admire here.