Clive James on ‘Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love’

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Note the high humour here. This portrait was likely taken by Larkin himself using a timer on the camera.

Philip Larkin comes under the scalpel again, but this time the hand is friendly. The book, Philip Larkin – Life, Art and Love, takes a look what’s become a focal point of the great poet’s life and work: his seemingly banal Life as a librarian (I never shared that view – library work is richly rewarding for the literary inclined), his Art, which suffered tragic abuse when several critics and higher journalists blurred the picture by noting some seemingly racist and sexist language in his collected letters followed by a respected biography noting the same thing. And along with all that, his secretive Love life was exposed, which came as a shock and added spice to the staid picture he had painted of himself as a bored, suburban bachelor in a staid, middle class town.

Life, Art and Love are given a therapeutic scrubbing in this book, returning him to the shelf of normal, healthy souls who chose to live their life in semi-seclusion and not in the public eye. After all, Larkin’s true charm came from presenting himself as being un-Byron and un-Shelley, and, yet, he is, for our time, as great as the greatest British poets.

Larkin’s steadfast champion over the years, Clive James, gives the book high marks for setting the record straight and throwing water on whatever fainting spells caused the sniping in the first place.

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