Cover image for The calligrapher
The calligrapher
Docx, Edward.
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Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2003]

Physical Description:
360 pages ; 24 cm
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This beguiling first novel is a provocative romantic comedy centered on a young London calligrapher named Jasper, who is an engaging, intelligent serial seducer and a breaker of hearts. But when he meets Madeleine, a captivating but enigmatic woman who is his equal in every way, he falls helplessly in love. Vulnerable for the first time, he is headed for his comeuppance at last. Jasper is transcribing the Songs and Sonnets of that other great lover, John Donne, for a rich American client. As he works on them (revealing to us the fascinating art of the calligrapher), he discovers that these wise and beautiful love poems illuminate his own experiences -- of the difference between love and lust, of the play of truth and deceit between men and women, of the cost of constancy.
As well as bringing modern London vividly to life, The Calligrapher is keenly observant of contemporary relationships and modern mores. Underlying its sparkling surface are Jasper's wry but heartfelt lamentations about the diminishment of our culture: the trivial masquerading as the consequential, the rising tide of ignorance, the triumph of the lowest common denominator. At once wickedly witty and deeply serious, sweet and cynical, romantic and reflective, this stylish, wonderfully entertaining novel is an accomplished and exciting literary debut.

Author Notes

Edward Docx is the author of the acclaimed The Calligrapher, named a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. He lives in London.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Two passions animate Jasper Jackson's life. The twentysomething Brit is a dedicated womanizer, unable and unwilling to ever commit, and always on the hunt. Jasper is also a talented calligrapher, hard at work these days transcribing Songs and Sonnets, by John Donne (another serial seducer), for a wealthy client. After a particularly ugly breakup with his current girlfriend, Jasper falls truly, madly, and deeply in love for the first time, with beautiful, sexy, and intelligent Madeleine, who seems to reciprocate his feelings yet is at the same time somehow elusive and evasive. The novel ends with two delicious plot twists, and Jasper, to his sorrow, learns what it's like to be the one in a relationship who loves the most. Docx's intelligent and humorous first novel succeeds beautifully on a number of levels--the writing is confident without calling attention to itself; even the most minor characters, like Jasper's grandmother (who only appears in one scene) and his best friend, William, are fully developed and probably worthy of novels of their own. --Nancy Pearl Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

It takes sangfroid and skill to write a contemporary love story featuring the metaphysical poetry of John Donne and the art of calligraphy, but British writer Docx, in his debut novel, carries it off with wit and sophistication. His protagonist, Jasper Jackson, is a Londoner whose current job is to transcribe the Songs and Sonnets of John Donne for a wealthy client. Like Donne, Jasper is also a relentless womanizer, a charming cad who lives for love affairs. When the woman of his dreams appears in his own garden, Jasper succumbs to real love for the first time and slowly begins to realize what it feels like to be the pursuer rather than the pursued. In a clever reversal of chick-lit roles, the lovely Madeleine, a travel journalist, plays the part of the rakes of yore, while Jasper pours his woes into the willing ear of his best friend. There are many contrasts here, between ancient art and contemporary manners, between ribald conversation and metaphysical elegance of expression, between the intellectual and the erotic. Docx prefaces each chapter with the sonnet Jasper is working on, and close reading reveals that the subject of each poem corresponds to Jasper's emotional state. Using sites in London, Rome and New York, he allows Jasper to fulminate about the meretricious standards of 21st-century culture (scenes in the Tate Modern are deliciously on target). Readers of conventional romantic comedy may find more to chew on here than they're expecting, but the double surprises that end the narrative are diabolically satisfying. Foreign rights sold in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden. (Oct. 14) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Who knew that John Donne would have so much to say about 21st-century disaffection? Docx proves it in this brilliant debut, which focuses on a London-based calligrapher named Jasper who slips amiably from amour to amour until he is finally bested by a woman perhaps more amoral than he. Jasper catches sight of Madeleine sunning herself in the communal garden and becomes immediately obsessed. He's just made a mess of breaking up with Lucy, whose connection to Madeleine is delicately foreshadowed and yet effectively and rather shockingly revealed in the book's closing pages. In the meantime, Jasper has an assignment from a wealthy New Yorker to transcribe Donne's Songs and Sonnets, whose verses are integrated into Docx's opalescent prose and give him his theme: our inconstancy in life and love. Docx manages to comment astutely on Donne's poetry while crafting a thoroughly modern entertainment on hip young Londoners and a cautionary tale on our failure to think through our beliefs. That's no small accomplishment. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/03; see "Must-Reads for Fall," p. 37-Ed.]-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1. Confined LoveLike so many people living through this great time in human history, I am not at all sure what is right and what is wrong. So if I appear a little slow to grasp the moral dimensions of what follows, Im afraid I will have to ask you to bear with me. Apologies. Its a difficult age. Actually, I do not believe I was behaving all that badly when these withering atrocities first began. (And if it would now be helpful for me to admit that mine was a crime of sorts, then I feel I must also be allowed to maintain that I did not deserve the punishment.) Rather, I seem to recall that I was trying to be as careful and as sensitive and as discreet as possible; it was William who was acting like a fool. We had finally come to a halt in the middle of "The Desire for Order." Lucy and Nathalie were somewhere up ahead-progressing unabashed through the room designated "Modern Life." I had been hoping to slip away without detection. But matters were not proceeding according to plan. For the last two minutes William had been following me through the gallery with the air of a pantomime detective: two steps behind, stopping only a slapstick fraction after me and then raking his eyes accusingly up and down my person. He spoke in a vociferous whisper: "Jasper, what the hell are you doing?" "Ssshh." The artificial lights hummed. "I am attempting to enjoy my birthday." "Well, why do you keep running away from us?" "Im not." "Of course you are." His voice was becoming progressively louder. "You are deliberately refusing to enter Modern Life- over there." He pointed. "And you keep drifting back into The Desire for Order-in here." He pointed again, but this time at his feet and with a flourish. "Dont think I havent been watching you." "For Christs sake, William, if you must know-" "I must." "I am trying to get off this floor altogether and back upstairs into Nude Action Body without anybody noticing. So it would be very helpful if you would stop drawing attention to us and go and catch up with the girls. Why exactly are you following me?" "Because youve got the booze and I think you should open it. Immediately." He paused to draw a stiffening breath. "And because you always look oddly attractive when you are up to something." "Im not up to anything, and I havent got the wine-I stowed it inside Lucys bag, which is now safely inside a cloakroom locker." I feigned interest in the mangled wire that we were facing. "You didnt. My God. Well, we must mount a rescue. We must spring the noble prisoner from its vile cell straight away! People from Texas put their cream sodas in those lockers-Ive seen them do it-and their... their fanny packs. And God only knows whats in Lucys bag-womens products, probably. And cheap Hungarian biros. You realize-" "Will you please keep your voice down? " I frowned. An elderly couple wearing "I love Houston" T-shirts seemed to be choking to death on the far side of the installation. "Anyway, Excerpted from The Calligrapher: A Novel by Edward Docx All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.