DYLAN by Jonathan Fryer


The Nine Lives of Dylan Thomas
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 Dylan Thomas set out to make his life as striking as his poetry, but BBC journalist Fryer (Isherwood, 1978) denigrates the former while skirting the latter, missing both man and poet. Precociously gifted even as a child with an extraordinary imagination and literary talent, Thomas (19141953) decided early on to become poäte maudit of the sleepy South Wales town of Swansea. Despite his early death from alcoholism in New York City, his career displayed many facets (not all of them glittering): hack journalism, film scripts, radio readings, American lectures, short stories, and some of the finest modern poetry in English. It's evident even in the introduction here that Fryer dislikes Thomas's mercurial personality and finds his perpetually adolescent pub antics distasteful. Such prejudice makes it impossible for the author to trace any connections between Thomas and his poetry- -indeed, he prefers to discuss the latter as little as possible. Although he succeeds in recreating the social milieu of literary London, Fryer fails to prove his general thesis that Thomas was ``a writer of the Thirties'' comparable to Auden and Isherwood. His book could have been a welcome deflation of Thomas's mythmaking cult, to which admirers contributed as much as the poet himself, but it finally becomes a squalid and scornful exercise in gratuitous contempt. While Fryer has some sympathy for Thomas's put-upon friends, he offers no genuine insights into either side of such crucial relationships as those between the poet and his formidable wife, Caitlin, and his American promoter, John Brinnin (both of whom wrote books about Thomas themselves). Fryer cites recently published letters and includes some new anecdotes, such as Thomas's reaction to his father's cremation, but none of this material is more trustworthy or more illuminating than that already on record. In the end, his work remains overshadowed by Paul Ferris's intensively researched Dylan Thomas (1977), the authoritative biography. An example of poor quality control in the Dylan Thomas industry.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 1-85626-090-0
Page count: 276pp
Publisher: Collins & Brown/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994