The Polymath is the first novel from Breo Gorst. It tells the story of Elliott Self, polymath and iconoclast. The book is written from a future perspective (the foreword is dated 2026) in a first-person, autobiographical style. Elliott’s memoir spans the period from 1940 to 2025.
It starts off in Barcelona in 2023 when, at the grand age of 83, Elliott meets and falls in love with the lovely Francesca. They discuss Gaudi, Barcelona, and their unhappiness at the trouble that befell England in the three years after 2020; we have to wait until the end of the book to discover the nature of this trouble. The second chapter then cuts back to Elliott’s twenty-first birthday in 1961.
That switch in time sets the pattern for the book. It is divided into three sections and runs to about 220 pages. All the way through, the author shifts back and forward across the decades, from school and childhood through to the final years of his life, taking in his time as a student, doctor, spy, advisor to world leaders, husband, father, brother, son and friend. By the end of the novel, the reader understands exactly how Elliott has achieved his childhood ambition to be a ‘General Specialist’. (Page 18)
I loved this book. It has a rambling, picaresque quality to it. Elliott Self is no rogue, but he doesn’t care too much for social mores or the opinions of others, preferring to live his life his own way. In part, this is because he understands that other people, particularly powerful people, aren’t interested in his opinion, either. They simply want him to affirm them in their own beliefs.
The author is a natural storyteller. He has the novelist’s eye for the detail of both events and character traits. The constantly shifting chronology of the book guards against the monotony that a more straightforward narrative timeline might have induced. I liked, too, how the author mixes fact with fiction, so that real places, events, and people are threaded through his novel, bringing added realism to it. His writing manages to mix wisdom, pathos, and humour in equal measures. By the end, I was absorbed by the characters and wanted to know more about them.
If I disliked one thing about the book, it is that the quality of the author’s storytelling is not matched by the standard of editing. The book may have been professionally edited, but it really could have been done better. There are quite a few minor errors in the text that should have been weeded out.
I enjoyed this book immensely and would like to have awarded it maximum marks, but I must deduct one star on account of the number of minor errors I found. I am, therefore, giving it three stars out of four. I recommend it to readers who enjoy novels that focus on characters and life stories rather than fast-paced action. It’s a book for adults who aren’t easily offended by strong language or references to sex.
I look forward to this author’s second novel, due out shortly!
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All aboard for a lively romp through multiple personalities and lives, sometimes futuristic, sometimes retrospective, but always energetic. If you disembark slightly breathless and with wobbly knees, you will have had the full experience intended when you bought the ticket!
Jean Ellis – Australia, Writer
I really enjoyed this book! Impressed by Breo Gorst’s narrative skills, poetic mind, and convincing dialogue. I also enjoyed the humour, particularly in the wedding speeches. The ironic humour reminded me a little of Anthony Powell.
Memorable sayings include:
• Sartre might have said “Hell is an arid heart”, but he didn’t. I did.
• God was a mushy peas uncertainty for me as yet.
• Amber Rudd’s stiff gin with her DVD of Brief Encounter lest she shed tears in public.
I loved Elliott’s description of the ghastly prep school, his precocious questioning of the Virgin Birth, his frank description of sexual awakening, the awkwardness of speaking with a dying father, his astute comment on education: learning more and more about less and less.
Canon Richard Truss – Retired C of E Clergyman
Breo Gorst writes in an accessible way, and intrigues us with a story so ambitious, that it appears to be perhaps three-books-in one, even. though contained in some 250 pages; travelling over the entire life of Elliott Self, the Polymath, 1940-2025. An entertaining read.
Stella Charman – Hampshire UK, Booklover
I was very taken by Breo Gorst’s usual energy, enthusiasm and imagination. I can only begin to imagine the fun he must have had blocking out the story line and the time changes – I liked those by the way, I enjoyed the breaks from one era to another and adjusting to them. I was constantly on the watch for autobiographical details..!
I’m very envious, I would have loved to find the motivation to take on something so exciting and life-changing, and I very much hope that he has enjoyed it all as much as he appears to have done from the telling of the tale.
Clare Codd – Retired Lawyer and cousin to Breo Gorst
The Polymath, Elliott Self, takes us on an odyssey through his life from earliest years, a childhood of rural delight; a freedom only darkened by the prospect of a school away from home he doesn’t relish.
Darkness of a different stamp is hinted at in the opening chapter, when we meet the mature Elliott after he has experienced a dystopian Britain, but which, when it becomes clear, is far from what we have assumed. It is during his secondary education that he forms friendships with a handful of people who become his sheet-anchor through life.
James Gilmour – Manchester, Retired Teacher
It is a truth universally acknowledged that we all believe we have a novel somewhere within us. I suspect Breo Gorst, has several.
My theory is that he has failed to establish exactly what type of novel he wishes to write and, therefore, has combined a myriad of genres and themes in an attempt to be all things to all men.
That is not to say that the piece is not entertaining...
Tim Guilding – Hampshire UK, Retired Teacher
The theme of friendship running throughout is heart-warming and supportive. The speculation about a post-Brexit Britain is very interesting, plausible and appropriate to the thinking of such a wide-ranging Polymath. I was touched by the account of physical and mental decline and how warmth and friendship shine through.
It’s certainly exuberant and easy to read and moves fast.
Ruth Garwood – Oxfordshire, Thinker
"...Why am I now so engaged, so aware, so willing to live these precious seconds as if they were my last? Such tiny instances do have meaning, coming unasked right into the very centre of my chaotic existence...”
Relationships and meaning of his life with sporadic shafts of insight.
And so the Polymath’s tale begins, as he seeks to unravel the events.
Breo Gorst has chosen to write from the perspective of a man very conscious of his place in the elite. It is a skilful weaving together of the personal and political, the real and the fanciful, even the politically prescient.
All in all this book offers a thought provoking account of the world of the elite as it perhaps is.
The last part of the book one can only hope is pure fantasy!
A dystopian and disturbing fantasy...
Kitty Lloyd Lawrence – an intrigued bystander, artist, political agnostic, cross-sector community builder.