PHILIP LARKIN

A WRITER'S LIFE

One of three literary executors of British poet Philip Larkin (1922-85), fellow poet Motion (The Lamberts, 1987) ill serves his subject with this drab, exhaustive biography full of bland literary criticism and inappropriate psychologizing. With complete access to Larkin's unpublished archival material—from which he quotes liberally—Motion establishes that Larkin's father was a Nazi sympathizer, as well as a misogynist and an autocratic parent, and that the poet's ``whining'' mother exerted an equally debilitating influence on her sensitive son. Tall and gawky, young Philip stammered and made few friends: This overwhelming sense of isolation stayed with him even through his years of critical acclaim. A voracious reader, he idolized Auden, Lawrence, and Yeats, despite his later antimodernist stance. At Oxford, Larkin formed his legendary friendship with Kingsley Amis, whose fame he would continually envy even as they shared a love of jazz and drinking, as well as a hatred of pretension. Larkin experienced difficulty with girls, not losing his virginity until well into his first job as a librarian (``handing out tripey novels to morons''). While developing his career—he created a major library at Hull—he also gained stature as a writer. Hoping to equal the achievements of Amis and their friend, Bruce Montgomery, he devoted his early efforts to fiction, producing two novels, Jill and A Girl in Winter, which was a modest success. But Larkin's real greatness was as a poet. Some juvenilia inspired largely by Yeats was eclipsed by his mature work—poetry in the plain-speaking tradition of Hardy, Housman, and Edward Thomas. The obsessions of his verse—sadness, death, failure—flow directly from his troubled life (fearing marriage and family, he managed to maintain three long relationships with dramatically different types of women), though he himself always discouraged such readings. Sure to be the standard life for some time, this cadaverous book seems dead to Larkin's amazing sense of humor, one of the sources of his poetic achievement. (Photos)

Pub Date: July 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-374-23168-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1993

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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