The Poet's House: Book summary and reviews of The Poet's House by Jean Thompson

The Poet's House

by Jean Thompson

The Poet's House by Jean Thompson X
The Poet's House by Jean Thompson
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About this book

Book Summary

A smart and witty story of a young woman who gets swept up in the dramatic and passionate world of writers.

Carla is stuck. In her twenties and working as a landscaper, everyone around her is telling her she's on the wrong path, from her mom who wants her to get a job in a hospital to her boyfriend who drops not-so-subtle hints that she should be doing something more with her life. Then Carla is hired to work at the home of Viridian, a lauded and lovely aging poet who introduces Carla to an eccentric circle of writers. At first she is perplexed by their predilection for reciting lines in conversation, the stories of their many liaisons, their endless wine-soaked nights. Soon, though, she becomes enamored with Viridian—whose reputation has been defined by her infamous affair with another famous poet, Mathias—and her friends, and especially with the power of words, the "ache and hunger that can both be awakened and soothed by a poem," a hunger that Carla feels sharply. When a fight emerges over a vital cache of poems that Mathias wrote about Viridian, Carla gets drawn in. How much will she sacrifice for a group that may or may not see her as one of their own?

A story of finding one's way and a delightfully funny look at the art world—sometimes petty, sometimes transactional, sometimes transformative—The Poet's House will resonate with readers who loved Lily King's Writers & Lovers and Andrew Sean Greer's Less.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"The brilliantly rendered mise-en-scène of quarrelsome, ego-ridden yet touchingly fragile poets and the literary entrepreneurs who circle around them makes a vivid backdrop for this classic coming-of-age tale. More thoughtful, elegantly written fiction in the classic realist tradition by the gifted Thompson." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Thompson's talents for immersive storytelling and sharp characters are on brilliant display, particularly in her portrayal of Carla's longing for something greater, and of Viridian's conflicted feelings about Mathias's work. The author's fans will savor this." - Publishers Weekly

"Jean Thompson is a national treasure. She's the kind of  writer who can make you laugh and cry at the same time, a consummate prose stylist whose work is full of insight and wisdom and a deadly keen eye for the foibles and self-deceptions of her characters. The Poet's House is yet another indelible masterpiece in her oeuvre." - Dan Chaon, author of Sleepwalk

"Jean Thompson makes hanging out with poets look like even more of a good time than one suspects, in real life, it might be. The Poet's House is terrific company: funny, poignant, and full of realistically quirky and original characters. A thoroughly enjoyable read." - Julie Schumacher, author of The Shakespeare Requirement

This information about The Poet's House was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Maureen R. (Alamo, CA)

Poetry and Prose: A Perfect Union
The Poet's House by Jean Thompson is a charming coming of age story about Carla, who in her twenties, has not found a comfortable nor assured fit with her life. In the space of one summer, Carla is embraced by the famous poet, Viridian and her poet friends; and a new world of experience opens. Like poetry, this book has many layers and unfolds in poignant and beautiful ways. Like prose, there is a plot and even mysteries that keep you turning the page. The Poet's House is a perfect blend of these two genres. As a resident of the Bay Area, I found the setting in Marin and San Francisco spot on. I connected with and loved every character and found the writing excellent. I highly recommend this book. I was first grabbed by the note that lovers of Lily King would like this book, and I am not disappointed. I hope to read more of Jean Thompson.

Helia R. (Goodlettsville, TN)

Another gem from a favorite author
Reading a Jean Thompson novel is like catching up with a friend you've loved for decades because she is witty and kind and endlessly curious about the human condition. She's unbothered by fads and writerly pretenses, and after spending time with her books I always feel refreshed and more hopeful about the human race.

The Poet's House follows a twenty-something landscaper with a reading disability who discovers the power poems can hold and is consequently smitten with an elderly poet and her eccentric entourage. Her (very nice) boyfriend is less than thrilled by this development.

Readers who like reading about writing will gobble this novel up in no time (we get to attend a writers' conference! For free!)-- but so will anyone else who enjoys fine, honest fiction.

Cynthia V. (New York, NY)

A Truly Lovely Work of Fiction
I am a Jean Thompson fan and was very much looking forward to reading her latest. It did not disappoint. The Poet's House is a very warm and welcoming work of fiction. The main character, Carla is lovably flawed. She has been trying to find herself, floating through life in a sort of contented state. This may sound like a cliched premise, but, in Thompson's hands, it is most definitely handled in a lovely, thoughtful way. I found myself reading quite slowly; I was savoring the subtleties of the writing, which truly flows and is unself-conscious. There is wonderful character development and a story that is immediately immersive. It is about the world of established and striving poetry writers, full of atmosphere and humor. However, I believe that I would be hooked regardless of that specific world. This book is a treat!

Barbara S. (Gig Harbor, WA)

An intriguing look into a poet's world
The Poet's House is a good title to read if you enjoyed Lovers and Writers or Groundskeeping. It brings the reader into the world of writers, in this case poets. I had some difficulty relating to the main character, but then realized that her nonreading habit was basically due to dyslexia and the author did a very good job explaining how the character related to the written word because of this condition. There were many intriguing characters and relationships in the book which would bring forth some interesting discussion, making this title a good pick for book clubs.

Arden A. (Longboat Key, FL)

Poetry for Non-Poets
I wasn't sure I would like this book. I am not a poet, nor do I necessarily enjoy poetry, or understand where it comes from within any poet. But I was wrong. I loved this book. Maybe it was because the main character was a young woman who is the antithesis of a poet, yet somehow found herself embedded in the world of writers and poets and managed to stumble through it and endear herself within that world, ending up with a clearer understanding of herself and who she really is. The characters were quirky, as is befitting the literary world, I think, and lovable in their own way. And the story moved along smoothly. This is the first work I have read by this author, who has written a number of novels and short stories. I will likely pick up another of her novels.

Betsey V. (Austin, TX)

For the love of poetry
Jean Thompson has a talent for creating characters who visibly mirror ourselves and the people who help shape our lives. This talent is well on display in POET'S HOUSE, a narrative of people grappling with early, middle, and late life decisions. Poets/writers have their art that they hold up as their core passion, but within their hearts, Thompson demonstrates that we all share similar desires to make our lives meaningful.

Twenty-one-year-old Carla is a landscape artist stuck in moving forward with a career path. A community college dropout, she is very bright, intelligent, but she's wired differently. Reading comprehension is a challenge, because she doesn't process words well (likely a form of dyslexia). But one day, while landscaping a famous poet's house, she hears the poet, Viridian, recite a poem out loud, and bam—Carla is captivated. A whole new world has opened up for her, and Viridian, the lovely, seventy-ish poet, befriends and wants to help her.

Carla's love life generally seems centered, but her vague sense of the future periodically interferes, even with steadfast Aaron, her boyfriend. In the meantime, Carla is compelled deeper into the world of poetry and poets. Viridian is a superstar in that esoteric world, and her poet friends flock around her to support, cling, or just be in her company.

Viridian had a past lover, Mathias, a poet who died many years ago. Apparently, he burned what was left of his poems, but everyone thinks that Viridian has secreted them somewhere in her house, but nobody has ever been able to turn them up, and Viridian is mum. Even though she struggles financially, and the recovery of Mathias' lost poems would earn her a windfall, she won't budge. Her stubbornness is as enigmatic as her own past. She's a tenacious feminist who insists on her own principles and resources. And Carla admitted to her poetry crush that began with the first of Viridian's poems that touched her.

"I wanted to keep living this way, among people who talked about writing, sometimes frivolously, sometimes seriously, often both in the same conversation."

POET'S HOUSE is compassionate, exploring the struggles of lives, family, health, habits, and individuality. Strip the surface of our skin and feel the keenness below. Peel away the words we speak and write and know the heart and humanity from where they came. "You write poems because you want to take hold of an aspect of experience and examine it, push it a little further, find out why it speaks to you. You want to speak back at it."

Read and enjoy this comely story!

...8 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Jean Thompson Author Biography

Photo: Marion Ettlinger

Jean Thompson is the author of fourteen books of fiction, including the National Book Award finalist Who Do You Love, the NYT bestseller The Year We Left Home, and the NYT Notable Book Wide Blue Yonder. Her work has been published in the New Yorker, as well as dozens of other magazines, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize. She has been the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among other accolades, and has taught creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Reed College, Northwestern University, and many other colleges and universities.

Link to Jean Thompson's Website

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