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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  • First Published:
    Jul 2022, 320 pages

    Jul 4, 2023, 336 pages


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Book Summary

A warm and witty story of a young woman who gets swept up in the rivalries and love affairs of a dramatic group of writers.

Carla is stuck. In her twenties and working for a landscaper, she's been told she's on the wrong path by everyone—from her mom, who wants her to work at the hospital, to her boyfriend, who is dropping not-so-subtle hints that she should be doing something that matters.

Then she is hired for a job 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 this entire world: with Viridian, whose reputation has been defined by her infamous affair with a male poet, Mathias; with Viridian's circle; 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. But how much will she sacrifice for a group that may or may not see her as one of their own?

A delightfully funny look at the art world—sometimes petty, sometimes transactional, sometimes transformative—The Poet's House is also a refreshingly candid story of finding one's way, with words as our lantern in the dark.

The Poet's House

Before I met Viridian, I didn't know any poets, any real poets. "Real" meaning other people agreed that you were a poet, and published your poems in books and magazines, and made a fuss over you. Was she a famous poet? What did that even mean? What was a poet anyway? Was that a trick question? I didn't even know what to ask.

Viridian hadn't ever been on television, which is usually what famous means in America. Neither she nor any of her circle would have expected such a thing. Every so often a poet might be singled out and elevated by reading at a presidential inaugural, or the dedication of a monument, but that wasn't exactly steady work. People said that books of all sorts were losing ground to videos and podcasts and blogs. The whole enterprise of poetry had been pushed into a kind of outer orbit, unseen but still capable of exerting a gravitational pull, a slow shaping of thought and language that people call culture.

Of course, the poets themselves ...

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A welcome break from dystopian and historical fiction that lines the bookstore shelves currently. It is truly original (Gina T). It is delightful and refreshing to read a novel where affairs of the heart take second place to the more compelling question "How should we live?" One where romance is found above all in the joy of learning to see poetry, and life, in a new way (Janice P)...continued

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
A closely observed, droll, coming-of-age story ... An absolute keeper.

The Christian Science Monitor
Beautifully rendered with wry wit, unusual charm, and poignant insights.

The San Francisco Chronicle
Wry, canny, and delectable ... As a tribute to the soul-saving value of art, a cri de coeur for women striving to make authentic lives, and a pipeline of guidance from the elders to the emerging, The Poet's House offers many rooms, infinitely worth the tour.

Charming...Part of the fun of The Poet's House is in its small details and memorable descriptions, but the biggest pleasures are Carla's evolution, the many well-drawn characters and subtle pokes at the competitiveness of the literary world.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
A literary charmer ... Amusing and true-to-life.

Washington Post
There's no doubting and no escaping the joyful, hopeful spirit that inhabits The Poet's House — the spirit of poetry that by the end of this charming novel Carla so clearly embodies — and the irrepressible Jean Thompson so smartly imparts.

Booklist, starred review
Ever insightful, imaginative, compassionate, and funny, Thompson is a virtuoso of thorny interactions between wholly realized characters rife with contradictions. And she is so in her element, bringing this richly dimensional book-anchored mise-en-scène to life with lacerating wit and rueful tenderness while adeptly interleaving a poet's long, covert battle against sexism and regret with the verdant tale of a young woman taking root in an unexpectedly sustaining realm.

Kirkus Reviews, starred review
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.

Publishers Weekly
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.

Author Blurb Dan Chaon, author of Sleepwalk
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.

Author Blurb Julia Alvarez, author of Afterlife
A coming-of-age novel, a novel of manners (Jane Austen, make some room on that big bench, dear), a page-turning narrative with laugh-out-loud scenes, and ultimately a hopeful, affirming book about how words can stir the mystery in us, help us find ourselves, and maybe even make us, however reluctantly, bigger versions of ourselves. The Poet's House is a book I'll be recommending to my friends who are readers and even to those who are not, but who will, to be sure, fall in love with Carla, with her discoveries, and with that master storyteller, Jean Thompson.

Author Blurb Julie Schumacher, author of The Shakespeare Requirement
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.

Reader Reviews

Elizabeth D. (Apple Valley, MN)

The body is a house. Who lives within?
I enjoyed this book enormously and believe the characters will stay with me for a long time. I think anyone who's ever felt uncertain about their role in their own life or questioned what the future held for themselves, or how to think about what it ...   Read More
Melanie B. (Desoto, TX)

Well-crafted and Entertaining Novel
This book was unexpectedly funny, sad, artful and poetic. The warm-hearted telling of Carla's introduction to the business and art of poetry through Viridian's seasoned literary experience and wise philosophy of life was not only entertaining but ...   Read More
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 ...   Read More
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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Novels About Poets

In Jean Thompson's novel The Poet's House, main character Carla discovers a new world when she meets Viridian, a well-established poet. Viridian soon brings Carla into her circle of writer friends and the drama that pervades the group, changing her life forever.

Novels about poets and poetry can provide an interesting opportunity for the author to insert fictional poems of their own making. They can also give an author the chance to create a unique artistic atmosphere, one in which the writing or deciphering of poems can serve as either background, plot points or both. Below are just a few other novels in which poets and poetry take center stage.

Covers of novels about poets

One of the most famous novels featuring a poet is Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire...

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