This is the story of Jasper Jackson, a twenty-nine year old Londoner with an unusual occupation. Engaging and intelligent, if a little self-deluded, Jasper has few troubles in life … Until he meets Madeleine, a captivating but enigmatic woman who is his equal in every way. Madly vulnerable for the first time, he is bound for his comeuppance.
Jasper is one of the few calligraphers left in the world who make a living. His current employment is to transcribe the Songs and Sonnets of John Donne for a rich American client. As he completes this commission he finds that these clever and beautiful love poems begin to illuminate his own experiences – dealing as they do with the difference between men and women, between love and lust, and between truth and falsity.
Set in contemporary London and Rome, The Calligrapher is a rich and many-layered love story.
"Stylish, witty and cleverly written, this is a brilliant debut novel from a fine new talent."
"In the end, The Calligrapher is a racy and stylish tale of comeuppance that is nearly Donnean in its density: Docx's prose and plot continually double back on themselves in the way that Donne's poems knot up like little erotic puzzles."
The Los Angeles Times
"Mr Docx's interspersion of his narrative with Donne's poetry and his erudite interpretation of its relevance to modern life and love lift The Calligrapher from the realms of lightweight to a higher plane altogether ... this stylishly written, pacy novel is a sexy, satisfying read."
"Docx has an acute eye for what is ridiculous about London's media set, and an ear for well-timed one-liners...snappy dialogue and a brilliantly structured, well-placed plot with an unexpected ending."
New York Times
"A romantic comedy of unusual depth and darkness. It combines the pleasures of traditional romantic comedy with the precision and intellectual capabilities of early Julian Barnes."
Independent on Sunday
"Docx is a smart and farcical writer, with some delicious turns of phrase. He delivers one of the best Bad Party Behaviour scenes to have come my way in quite a while, and his eye for human bedlam recalls Iris Murdoch in her 1970's heyday. There's no doubt that there is considerable and even ferocious talent a-bubble here"
Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
"A near perfect debut ... incisive and laugh-aloud witty ... most impressively the calligrapher doesn't lose any of its heart in the process."
"Deeply enjoyable ... a delight."
The San Francisco Chronicle
"In the same way Donna Tartt used the Greek classics in The Secret History, so The Calligrapher sews the sonnets of John Donne into the narrative progression ... Brilliantly inventive."
"A sly debut...the author's ability to strike a balance between slapstick and sincerity prevents the novel from getting too cute for its own good."
"The Calligrapher is, for one thing, howlingly funny. Jasper's reflections on Notting Hill, an EU functionary, and the backs of cab drivers' heads, leave you breathless and aching. As a satire on our age, and in turn upon the fogeyish arrogance, which would pass judgement on it, this sparkling debut is faultless."
"The author’s astute device is to match, chapter for chapter, the raging
passions of each of Donne’s Songs and Sonnets to Jasper’s conquest of Madeleine
– the setbacks, the sex and, at last, the falling in love for the first (and
last?) time. Pithy anatomies of the poems rub shoulders with a sharply funny,
wry and finely wrought take on the lot of the young man in lust. It’s only
when Jasper feels the spoils are his that Madeleine produces an unlooked-for
flourish more dramatic than any in his work. Stylish, witty and cleverly
written, this is a brilliant debut novel from a fine new talent."
"Docx's affable and thoroughly screenplay-ready novel takes us inside
the mind of a rake who is forced, for the first time, to contemplated the
possibility of fidelity."
New York Times
"An arresting debut and promise of more to come…the ingenious revenge
is biblical in its severity and completeness, transforming Docx’s first book…into
a harsh moral fable."
"A wonderfully well-paced and elegantly amusing caper."
"Docx is very much in tune with the idea of re-interpreting the classics
for a nubile young audience and – rather like Baz Luhrmann did with Romeo
and Juliet – (John) Donne becomes the touchstone of a surprisingly fresh,
accessible and randy page-turner…Docx has turned a simple love parable into
a work of not inconsiderable sociological significance. You’ll be hearing
more from him."
"Docx is a smart and farcical writer, with some delicious turns of
phrase…He delivers one of the best Bad Party Behaviour Scenes to have come
my way in quite a while, and his eye for human bedlam recalls that of Iris
Murdoch in her 1970’s heyday…no doubt that there is a considerable and even
ferocious talent a-bubble here."
"Who better than the greatest love poet of all time to help the modern
man suss out the vagaries of romance in the 21st Century….compulsively readable."
Pages Magazine, USA
"The novel’s overflowing humour, its biting wit, resourceful storytelling,
engaging characters, and intelligent interplay between poetry and prose are
enough to seduce even those readers playing hard to get."
"Edward Docx’s ambition, in his delicious debut novel, The Calligrapher,
is to put the 'literary' back into literary fiction. Dealing with dead white
males can be a dangerous game, but Docx’s decision to fill his fiction with
lines from John Donne’s Songs and Sonnets turns out to be a canny one, imbuing
the novel with a gravity it might otherwise lack. Anyone in search of a sexy
summer read which combines all the pleasures of traditional romantic fiction
with the precision and intellectual capabilities of early Julian Barnes need
look no further. This is a beach book with brains."
The Independent on Sunday
"For an apt depiction of the reckless, unreliable and often egomaniacal
nature of human desire, consult the love poems of John Donne. First-time
novelist Docx has done just that in creating his comedy of bad bachelordom.
Not only do Donne’s sonnets provide the novel’s framework, they also serve
as the narrator’s bread and butter. Docx’s caddish antihero is a world-class
calligrapher named Jasper, a Londoner who devotes himself as much to the
seduction of women as he does to quills and ancient serifs. What at first
may seem just another title on the hackneyed British Love Farce shelf quickly
proves to be a sly and hilarious look at orchestrated romance and self-deception."
Time Out, New York
"Jasper Jackson, the narrator of Edward Docx’s arch, funny and accomplished
debut novel, is in league with the Devil. Not in any trippy pentagram and
goat-sacrificing way, mind you. It is, rather, just part of the turf that
goes with his defiantly anti-modern calling of calligraphy."
"The Calligrapher could be described as a romance of sorts, but that
doesn’t do justice to a novel that is as intelligent and sophisticated as
it is light and funny."
"Docx is irresistibly funny, as well. The more you read, the more you
forgive Jasper (and, you half-guess, Docx) his superficiality, his vanity,
his confidence and his successes with women, and the book becomes horribly
"The Calligrapher is funny. It's surprising. It's both literate and
literary. And it's Docx's first novel, which is frightening."
The San Jose Mercury "This debut novel is sharp and wryly funny, and while there is a certain satisfaction in watching Jasper suffer, we can't help rooting for him as he fumbles through his first encounter with love."
People Magazine, USA
"Docx smoothly integrates high culture and low, ranging from a game
of pornographic scrabble to metaphysical poetry and the finer points of the
ancient art of calligraphy."
The Boston Globe
"Quotations from John Donne preface each chapter and litter the text
of The Calligrapher, proof of wit and a fine, lucid mind ... A clever contemporary
The Miami Herald
"Jasper characterises his profession as "lots of sitting around
and trying not to smudge", which is pretty much how he runs his love life..."
"Edutainment at its best."
The Daily Texan
"The narrative structure of the novel takes its cue from Donne's favourite
form: the sonnet. In the tenth of its 14 lines, a proper sonnet generally
contains a reversal … Docx has cleverly planted the seeds of [this] reversal
and it's his great triumph that the specifics of Madeleine's confession prove
as much of a shock to Madeleine as they do Jasper."
The San Francisco Chronicle
"This is one of those delicious books one wants to devour, one of those
quirky gems onbe loves to find and keep."
"An assured and winsome stylist."
The Washington Post
"Docx's talents are formidable and a first edition of his bildungsroman
might one day be worth a hefty sum."
The Daily Texan
"Docx must be either admirably brave or disgustingly arrogant to intersperse
lines of Donne's poetry throughout the novel …but Docx and Donne are actually
co-conspirators, as the former uses the latter to provide a play-by-play
commentary on the events and the character's emotions as they develop. Such
collision begets a sly structuring device that reveals the true heart and
meaning in The Calligrapher."
"Edward Docx's idea of spicing up a modern-day revenge plot with periodic
sprinklings of Donne's poetry is a good one…a vivid and amusing picture of
young metropolitan lives."
Times Literary Supplement
"Stylistically, The Calligrapher is a delight. Docx's language is delectable,
each word carefully chosen, and the sentences sparkle with effortless intelligence."
"Docx weaves the poems together with the Jasper storyline, and it's
an unexpected treat - especially since Docx insightfully analyses the poems
Newsday, New York City
"Sex, love, constancy and betrayal are the themes running through this
deliciously spicy debut novel…The beauty of Donne's words provide a satisfyingly
crisp contrast to the book's laugh-aloud dialogue and strong characterization
is maintained throughout."
"What makes Docx's novel such a treat are the digressions."
The Daily Texan
"Docx is a stylist worth watching and reading."
San Antonio Express-News
"At times you wonder whether Docx isn't almost too fluent. Yet there's
something undeniably winning about a novel that dares to use the randy love
poems of John Donne as running thread… "
Los Angeles Times
"Docx shows how real writers go about writing debut novels."