Book Review – The Death of the Poet

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When you swear to love, to be faithful and to do your duty, how does that promise bind you?

Radio host John Knox falls passionately and irrevocably in love with Rachel McAllister the first time they meet, when a political debate boils over and she punches him. Thrilled by her fire, he pursues her, promising never to leave her.

I was intrigued by my own reaction to this book. It took me a very long time to pick up on the kind of person Rachel actually was; my mind was somehow refusing to see it, despite all the evidence laid out plainly in front of me.

It is a story about the worst kind of love: the kind that binds you tightly, pulls you together with the other person so that you can’t let go even if you wanted to. And John Knox doesn’t want to. He’s made a vow in his mind, to stick with Rachel through thick and thin, and he’ll be keeping to it even if all his friends advise him otherwise.

The Death of the Poet is a beautifully written story, interwoven with the diaries of a WWI captain who saw his friend killed in front of him (don’t be surprised when the diary suddenly pops up halfway through – for a moment I thought I’d started a new book). It looks at how lives can entwine without any warning, how we can become inextricably linked to people whose worlds are so far removed from our own, and how a life can so easily be wasted in the pursuit of making someone else’s life better.

It is a novel that reads like poetry, about a horrible situation that reads like a romance. Masterfully done, The Death of the Poet is one of the most accomplished books of recent years. I’m expecting more excellent things from N. Quentin Woolf in the future.

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