Arctic Summer steps back in time to imaginatively explore the creative process of EM (Morgan) Forster as he comes to write his famous novel, A Passage To India. Forster’s travels to India are inspired by a charismatic young Indian, Masood, his Latin tutor. Masood’s personality is different to the typical Englishman (he is affectionate, enthusiastic and boisterous) and Forster is captivated. But when Masood returns to India and Forster follows sometime later with inflated romantic expectations, things begin to go awry. Masood is preoccupied with work, has little free time for his friend and even admits to considering an arranged marriage. When Forster confides the ardour of his feelings, Masood does not respond in kind.
Arctic Summer is a fascinating exploration of the creative process and how various incidents or people provoke the author’s imagination and become melded into his book. For example, when Morgan is surreptitiously groped by Edward Carpenter’s boyfriend, he suddenly realises that sexual trespass is what should be at the heart of his Indian novel. This climactic scene had eluded him but this (not altogether unwelcome) incident sparks his inspiration. Readers who are familiar with A Passage To India and EM Forster are undoubtedly going to get a lot more out of this novel than those who know little. But this is a superb book, embedded in comprehensive research, and narrated with this novelist’s mastery of characterisation, setting and atmosphere. It’s similar to Colm Toibin’s equally fine portrait of Henry James in his 2004 Booker Prize nominated novel, The Master.