As he demonstrated in Hiroshima Joe (1986), Booth feels an affinity for the marginal man caught up in major historical...



As he demonstrated in Hiroshima Joe (1986), Booth feels an affinity for the marginal man caught up in major historical events--this time, he's chosen James Elroy Flecker, an impoverished poet serving unwillingly as British assistant vice-consul in Beirut, Who falls in love with T.E. Lawrence. Lawrence, spying on a German railway while under cover of operating an archeological dig in Syria, recruits Flecker; both had studied at Oxford with D.G. Hogarth, and the depiction of the Oxford literary/ espionage network that cruelly ensnares Flecker is the most interesting part of the book. Flecker, who died young of consumption but was no Keats or Shelley, is something of a windbag: ""The ruins remind me of Greece. . .the harsh power of history, the intellectual force of the dead and the turns in the fate of men."" Events, such as riots, are set up well, and the Mideast details are authentic, if bordering on travelogue. But the rest is love: Flecker's marriage and his unrequited passion for Lawrence, who already has an Arab ""boy."" Instead of fresh revelations, we are repeatedly told only of Lawrence's seductiveness and charisma yet are not shown much more than ""[his] two piercing blue eyes."" Flecker's long-suffering and sexually compliant wife (she whips Flecker at his request--he's been turned on by it since witnessing Lawrence's flogging by the Turks) never becomes a fully realized character. Meanwhile, Booth often cites Flecker's poetry, with its schoolboy rhymes, taste for exotica and worn language. We do, however, sympathize with the unfortunate Flecker when he admits to himself that his poetry is ""old""--compared, say, with that of his friend Rupert Brooke. On a minor scale, he is heroic: his dedication to literature; his attempts at spying in the desert despite his ill-health; his honest confession to his wife that he loves Lawrence. Still, it's too bad that the author did not transcend the limits of Flecker's life by fictionalizing more. Overwritten and overlong, the book nonetheless evokes the dream that these young poet-adventurers shared, the spell the East cast over them.

Pub Date: May 25, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1990