A Novel in Verse: Reviewing Louisa Reid's The Poet

The Poet is a novel that tackles several complex and emotional topics, including abusive relationships and imposter syndrome at university.


The Poet, by Louisa Reid, follows Emma, a promising young academic who is entangled in a spiralling relationship with her previous professor. Tom, the professor, is loved by both students and academics however in his relationship with Emma he begins to push her to her limits. Eventually, Emma has to decide whether to submit to her relationship with Tom or turn towards revenge.

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.

The relatability of Emma comes from her struggle with imposter syndrome as she adjusts to the world of academia, whilst also dealing with how her relationship with a man established in this world makes her feel. Reid’s glimpse into the experiences of academia for working-class students is contrasted with Tom’s experiences of privilege within this sphere as he seems to constantly be praised and adored by students and peers alike. Reid skilfully plays with power dynamics within Tom and Emma’s relationship but also through their differing treatment by society and academic spheres. The contrasting treatment of Emma and Tom creates a frustrating narrative of the privilege that Tom holds in these spaces and also wields over Emma. Tom and Emma’s relationship encapsulates class, gender, and academic inequalities. As Reid reveals Emma’s insecurities alongside Tom’s use of these to further her feelings of inferiority, she reveals painful glimpses into abusive relationships and the power of societal privilege.


The novel’s main original element is the form, as the entirety of the novel is written in verse. Through this unexpected element, Reid is able to explore the emotional and personal elements of passion and anger that Emma holds as a result of her situation, especially as Emma is herself a poet. The poetry allows an interiority crucial to the situation that Emma is placed in as this poetry allows her reflections on her current situation to be explored alongside the main plot of the novel. This is extremely powerful as the plot progresses and her reflections on her situation become clearer and more vengeful.


The rage held within these lines of poetry is the form’s triumph, as Emma’s rage against Tom often becomes the most powerful lines within the novel:


‘The subtext is of course:

how dare I have the temerity to presume

that I could ever be as good as you.

Better if I accept your version of me:

weak, vulnerable,

quite possibly

in need of a lunatic's cell.’ (p. 207)

Black and white photo of Louisa Reid. Credit: Alistair Reid

Emma’s poetry within the novel also adds to the power dynamics of Tom and Emma’s relationship as he critiques her works exclaiming:


‘I am sick of being modified,

By almost

Sick of perhaps,

And being nearly adequate’ (p. 68)


Creating this added power dynamic, connected to the form of the novel, the reader is invited into the sphere that is Emma’s most personal revenge, a poetry which refuses his critiques.



The use of poetry allows Reid to create a novel invested in both the emotional hurt caused by mentally abusive relationships which is held within the intricate lines of poetry and a novel fuelled by the painful and necessary choice between silence and revenge.


Ultimately, The Poet is a novel of rage, pain, and regaining a power that has been forcibly taken through abusive relationships.

 

The Poet is available to purchase in hardback here.


Edited by Maisie Allen, Literature Editor



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