A novel about E.M. Forster not getting some is surprisingly moving

I grabbed this book from the library in my usual, arbitrary way: I liked the spine and the binding, and the cover; then I saw it was a Europa Edition and decided to check it out. Then I never got around to reading it, and had forgotten about it until noticing it on my Overdrive wishlist.

Arctic Summer is biographical novel of English novelist E.M. Forster; it's mostly about Morgan's desperate search for love and companionship and sex, and how he basically didn't get those things. It's gorgeous and emotional and restrained, and I loved every word.

Overwhelmingly, this novel is just bittersweet. Morgan is so sweetly likeable (I know it's trendy these days to want unlikable characters, but there's something to be said for characters you also just want to squish) but his life so empty despite the people, jobs, and travel that fill it. He finds some intense emotional relationships, a few that translate into physical/sexual ones, but all seem lopsided and unequal -- some, because the other man is not as interested; some, because of racial and class inequalities.

Morgan's yearning for companionship just hit me so hard; despite all the changes legally and socially in some parts of the world, queer folks still can't live freely and openly. I'm lucky in my life that I haven't lost anything in being open with the person I love -- but it's easy to imagine a world in which I didn't have that luxury.

Galgut draws from a wealth of source material, and apparently includes real quotes -- slightly amended -- in the text, a technique I didn't notice, and the narrative reads beautifully. Every other line is quote-worthy; despite the slim size of this read, I kept pausing to meditate and chew over the story.

I'm genuinely sad having finished it; not just because I've ended a good read but because I ache for Morgan. I want a few more pages where he is not just fine -- because he is fine -- but where he is stupidly, insanely happy.

First line: In October of 1912, the SS City of Birmingham was travelling through the Red Sea, midway on her journey to India, when two men found themselves together on the forward deck.

Title: Arctic Summer
Author: Damon Galgut
Publisher/Publication Date: Europa Editions (9/2/2014)
Source: My public library
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Comments

  1. This sounds good. I'm reading Margot Livesey's The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing, and she refers to his life, novels, and influential essays on novels suggesting interesting ways these connect. Perfect for the "Only connect" guy.

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    1. Oooh, I have to get that Livesey book -- I love writers on writing. Morgan's "only connect" instinct is so much clearer to me after reading this book -- and I still can't help marveling at his emotional nuance when it seemed to never really have a deep romantic relationship.

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  2. Thank you for this review of a book that I had not heard of at all. Sounds so interesting.

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    1. I didn't expect to be so taken with this book. I miss it now that I'm done!

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  3. Oh OH does it talk about CP Cavafy at all? I love dear darling CP Cavafy, and I hope he featured in this book because I know EM Forster loved him too.

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    1. It does! He's not a huge character but he's very present -- very much a part of the entire Alexandria portion of the story.

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  4. This sounds great (and I love it when you want a book to continue after you've finished the last page)!

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