ILL by Philip Larkin


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This was originally published in England in 1946 and an American critic has pinpointed it as ""the first example of that characteristic landmark of the British post-war novel, the displaced working-class hero."" The author, in his introduction, makes it clear that his purpose was larger than this; that he was trying to capture the essence of a special time at a special place. The time was 1940, the second year of WWII for England, and the place was Oxford University. The blackouts, the rationing, the evidences of war were not as real in the timeless setting of the University. It was still a cruel place for a poor and pointless boy to come and his totally insecure confrontations with social realities were more catastrophic for him than the war that was coming closer. John Kemp wanted to be his roommate, Christopher Warner. Nothing in his blue collar background had prepared him for the brutish insensitivity that he mistook for assurance. Kemp, in social shell shock after overhearing what Warner really thought of him, invented Jill, a younger sister -- wrote letters to and from her, kept her diary, and followed a girl who looked like her. Kemp, as one character remarked, is a mystery not worth solving. Jill is a book worth reading. Mr. Larkin's larger aims may not be successful but his handling of scenes of social disaster has a painful precision.

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1964
Publisher: St Martin's Press