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A witty debut by British culture critic and columnist Docx: the story of a young artist and philanderer who falls hopelessly in love with an unattainable woman.

Jasper Jackson is one of those exquisite young men who, in any other place than England, would almost certainly be gay. An orphan, Jasper was raised by his brilliant and eccentric grandmother—an expert on Medieval manuscripts who took the boy with her to conferences and museums across the length and breadth of Europe and sat him down at the Bodleian to transcribe a sonnet of John Donne before he had even learned to read. Later sent to both Heidelberg and Cambridge, Jasper emerged into the harsh light of the real world thoroughly unskilled in anything—except calligraphy. In London he makes a precarious living drawing up menus for posh restaurants, but lack of income doesn’t prevent him from indulging his passions for fine wines, good tea—and beautiful women. Despite the devotion of his charming girlfriend Lucy, Jasper basically just can’t keep it zipped up. His infidelities, however crudely arranged (he’s not above pulling the fire alarm at the Tate in order to escape with a quick pickup, for example), share a certain 17th-century sensibility with his hero John Donne, who also considered seduction and betrayal to be intellectual as well as carnal pleasures of the highest order. Eventually, however, Jasper finds himself genuinely obsessed with Madeleine, a young writer he noticed one day from the window of his studio. Exquisite and enigmatic, Madeleine plays Jasper like a fish, alternately encouraging and putting him off until he’s fallen head over heels. At that point, when it seems that Jasper has finally become an honest man, a horrible revelation is unveiled.

Nimble and extremely deft, Docx’s story draws the reader in as skillfully as Madeleine hooks Jasper, only to pull the rug out at the last minute, in a genuinely surprising (and apt) climax.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 2003
ISBN: 0-618-34397-0
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2003