Reviews of The Englishman

To read Shannon McCloskey Allain’s LONG REVIEW on the “Blog” page, please click here.

To read Fiction Books’s LONG REVIEW on the “Blog” page, please click here.

To read Windy City Review’s LONG REVIEW on the “Blog” page, please click here.

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In The Englishman and the Butterfly, Ryan Asmussen leads us into the worlds of poets and philosophers, past the ivy-covered walls of a prestigious English department, and into the passions and tensions of love and longing. In this mesmerizing debut novel, Asmussen deftly juggles a diverse cast of characters, bestowing upon readers a wealth of clever dialogue, interior landscapes brimming with intensity and wit, and settings drawn with a fine eye for detail. An intellectual and psychological journey into unexpected and tragic places, The Englishman and the Butterfly is a lovely, poetic tale from a gifted new novelist. Midge Raymond, author of Forgetting English and Everyday Writing

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I have tried to write this review three separate times and I simply cannot find the words to properly review this book. The Englishman and the Butterfly is both poetic and intelligent. It deserves a review that is equally as eloquent. This is a thinking book and honestly, I think I need to read it a second time to fully grasp what I read, maybe three times. That being said, I invite every reader to pick up this book and discover in its pages an intriguing look at life and the infinite possibilities it holds. – Jennifer Roberts-Hall, The Indie Bookshelf

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Clinical anxiety is sky-rocketing in the twenty-teens. Where better to see a microcosm of its victims than on the campus of a high-powered university, among staff who must learn to sidle their way through a labyrinth of judgment and innuendo — and to trust no one? Ryan Asmussen’s The Englishman and the Butterfly ensnares us in the web of an English faculty through the eyes of the troubled yet endearing Henry Fell, whose severe anxiety — and a host of uncertain loyalties and rivalries besides — threaten to damage him psychologically and physically. Through a series of powerful scenes that range from pitiful to joyous, from frightening to uproariously funny, Asmussen lets us follow Henry through his singular maze of academic and emotional hell. Along the way, we come to doubt, along with Henry, just how much of his suffering is of his own making. The Englishman and the Butterfly is a striking effort by this first-time novelist and poet, and one that will surely stake a claim in the growing genre of literary intrigue. – Kate Hutchinson, poet, author of The Gray Limbo of Perhaps

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It’s not just that Ryan Asmussen, in The Englishman and the Butterfly, has placed a character in a predicament that so many of us find ourselves in, namely one in which one’s life is in a precarious position. Even a jaded 1%-er can relate to that! But it’s that he threads together the story in a prose of complexity and daring that resembles the disembodied consciousness of the Internet. Henry’s anxiety harnessing the multitude of narratives in his head is our anxiety we face as the Internet spews forth multiple narratives every moment of every day. Asmussen’s prose takes on these complexities as a prism diffuses light to reveal the gorgeous shades of the matter. Peter Eriksson, poet

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Milton scholar Henry Fell – perilously near forty, resigned to never being a poet, never having a wife and family or “a grand career in letters” – comes from his native England to Boston to assume a visiting  distinguished professorship. Within minutes in this strange land, he begins a promising flirtation with the department secretary and dueling friendships with new colleagues. Henry is hapless in big ways (subject to debilitating panic attacks, he has one before he leaves the plane) and humorous (on a lightly scholarly date with the young PhD candidate with whom he is falling in love, they search for e.e. cummings’s grave – in the wrong historic Boston cemetery). The conversations, ramblings, and rich inner dialogues of this intriguingly balanced cast prove, as he observes at one point, “the persistence of literature.” Henry particularly is given to wide-ranging quotation, allusion, and homage, to throw-away lines and wit: he notes a poster for “the always-entertaining Duchess of Malfi”; his gravedigger scene both relieves and heightens tension. Facing successive, interrelated sorrows, Henry also faces, for himself and others, “the sad necessity of free will.” – Natalie McCracken, Editor-in-Chief, Bostonia (retired)

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The Englishman and the Butterfly is a literary novel set in academia. The protagonist, like his department colleagues (and like many of us) live on the head of a pin. The symptom of Henry Fell’s limited worldview arrives in the form of panic attacks and the story asks whether or not Henry will be forever trapped in this state of delusional existence or truly learn to live.

In this case, Henry’s worldview is shaped by the realm of literary intellectualism. Instead of living as Henry, he filters his life through the writings and philosophies of others rather than through his own soul. Literary intellectualism is his religion and he begins to miss the point.

If Henry were a pop musician, he may have written the Bravery’s lyrics “Whenever I look back on the best days of my life, I think I saw them all on T.V.” The best parts of Henry’s life and those of his two colleagues and their common love interest are found in literature until a catalyst of events occurs that forces them all to face reality when their reified worlds begin to crumble.

Asmussen is a strong writer with a talent for gorgeous prose that brings to life these characters, the university setting and the city of Boston. The book is also a love letter to the very religion that Henry’s follows, an exploration and analysis of the lessons and inspiration learned from the literary stratosphere, and the author successfully shows how one can thrive (or not) within one’s chosen belief system and passions rather than perish within.

Sometimes, these odes to high literature can be a bit jarring to the story’s flow, and the reader wants more Asmussen and less academic verse; however, they are well worth one’s patience and add to the depth of the tale. It has been a long time since I’ve read Hesse’s Steppenwolf or Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, both books dearly loved and as I read The Englishman and the Butterfly, I was happily reminded of both. The Englishman and the Butterfly is an excellent debut novel and I look forward to reading more by the author. – Dina Keratsis, author of Kicking Sideways, Charlesgate, and Cake: A Fairy Tale

One Response to Reviews of The Englishman

  1. Pingback: Moonstruck Over Manhattan (The “Snap Out of It!” Post) | Dina Keratsis

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