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Losing Nelson (original 1999; edition 2000)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393321177, Paperback)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
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:40 -0400)
As he writes on Nelson, a British biographer re-lives his battles and romances. But he is obsessed by a black mark against his hero, Nelson's massacre of Neapolitans. The biographer undertakes a trip to Naples and receives an explanation.
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