Novel Barry Unsworth Losing Nelson

ISBN 13: 9780140260915

Losing Nelson

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9780140260915: Losing Nelson

In the basement of a large Victorian house in London, Charles Cleasby painstakingly re-enacts the great sea battles of his hero, Horatio Nelson. He is also writing a faithful biography of the great man, as a true English hero for an age without idols, a 'bright angel' to Charles' dark shadow. But as Charles' visiting typist, Miss Lily, begins to question Nelson's heroism, and as Charles unearths evidence which tarnishes the image of his icon, his own precarious sense of identity is undermined and the battle raging inside him - between darkness and light, reality and fantasy - threatens to overwhelm him.

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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

From the Author:

Barry Unsworth on Lord Nelson

Most British people, if asked to name the national hero, would unhesitatingly say Lord Nelson. A large part of the reason for this lies in the manner of his death. He was shot on the quarterdeck of his flagship, HMS Victory, by a French sniper at the height of the battle of Trafalgar. The issue of the battle was in doubt when he received the wound, but he was still alive when they brought him the news of the greatest British naval victory since the defeat of the Spanish Armada two centuries earlier -- a victory that destroyed French naval power, removed the threat of invasion by Napoleon, and gave Britain total supremacy in the Mediterranean for a century to come. When the news arrived in London, instead of rejoicing at the victory, people wept -- a measure of the love that was generally felt for Nelson. They gave him a state funeral unrivaled in pomp and ceremony, but they did not honor his dying wish -- the only thing he asked of his country -- that provision be made for his mistress, Lady Hamilton. She died in France, completely destitute, ten years later.

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Unsworth, Barry
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