Category: Fiction / General
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Publication date: 1 April 2004
Number of pages: 160
What is the truth about the mysterious Dr Cake? Why, at his funeral, is there no name on the brass plate so ostentatiously screwed into his coffin-lid? Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate, has written a tantalising novel about poets and their afterlife.
Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate since 1999 and winner of numerous awards for both poetry and biography, has now turned his hand to fiction. This brief yet powerfully moving tale, almost defies description. It is a mystery, almost a detective story, with undertones of unrequited love, yet it is above all a book about the nature of poetry. Various questions are posed in the course of the novel: what constitutes great poetry? Is it a mere truism that 'the good die young'? Would we still value the early works of poets such as Clare and Keats had they continued to write into their old age? Motion renders such complex literary concepts accessible to all readers by setting them in the framework of a literary mystery. The story is told via a series of reminiscences written by one Dr William Tabor who writes to Dr John Cake about a medical survey and requests an interview. On arriving at the doctor's house, Tabor is surprised to learn that not only does Dr Cake no longer practise in the village because of his failing health, but also that Cake has a passionate interest in all things literary, and has even read Tabor's own modest collection of poems. In their ensuing conversations, a picture emerges of Dr Cake as a man of great compassion and literary sensitivity, revered in the local community for his gentleness and adored by his dedicated housekeeper, who protects him with the ferocity of a lioness guarding her cubs. But as Dr Cake's health fails, Tabor senses that he is on the verge of revealing a great secret. The novel ends with Tabor drawing his own conclusions about the true identity of the mysterious Dr Cake, and indeed there are many tempting parallels between the life of his dying friend and one of the most famous Romantic poets. Whether Motion's fascinating premise is a possibility is not really the point - he wants to stir us up, to make us think about poetry with intensity and passion and above all to understand the bitter disappointment of a poet who feels he has lost the ability to create. At one point Dr Cake comments, 'poetry surprises by looking inwards and outwards at once. Poetry is a kind of Janus.' A novel so perceptive about the nature of poetry could only have been written by a poet. Difficult yet immensely readable, Andrew Motion's book will surely send his readers back to the works of that young poet who died so tragically young, with so much potential unfulfilled. (Kirkus UK)
Andrew Motion was Poet Laureate from 1999 to 2009; he is Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway College, University of London, and co-founder of the online Poetry Archive. He has received numerous awards for his poetry, and has published four celebrated biographies. His group study The Lamberts won the Somerset Maugham Award and his authorised life of Philip Larkin won the Whitbread Prize for Biography. Andrew Motion's novella The Invention of Dr Cake (2003) was described as 'amazingly clever' by the Irish Times and praised for 'brilliant and almost hallucinatory vividness' by the Sunday Telegraph. His memoir, In the Blood (2006), was described as 'the most moving and exquisitely written account of childhood loss I have ever read' in the Independent on Sunday. His most recent collection of poems, The Cinder Path (2009), was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. Andrew Motion was knighted for his services to poetry in 2009.
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