Britten was clearly not an easy man to get to know, but Carpenter has managed to present the complicated, creative and flawed Ben in what must surely be the composer's seminal biography.
What makes this work so well is the way that Carpenter has used the major works (in particular the operas)to mirror events taking place in Britten and Pears's lives. Carpenter gives us an insight into the operas which grounds them very much in Britten's day to day experiences and psychologically in the complex psyche of the foremost British composer of the twentieth century. Themes of loss of innocence, the existence of evil, the intrinsic yet often covert homosexuality of so much of the material used sit alongside Britten's personal ambiguities ("I don't think Ben really took sides", Myfanwy Piper [Britten's librettist for Turn of the Screw] revealingly states).
The biography reveals the incredible amount of life Britten managed to squeeze in to his 63 years. The sheer variety of experiences and people he worked with and knew are enormous, but Carpenter is also able to demonstrate the huge output which continued to the very end of Britten's life (and even though the book contains an abridged chronological list of works this in itself is very useful, as is, incidently, the chronological list of interviews undertaken by Carpenter).
This marvellous book deserves to be better known both for its literary merit (and it is a fine example of how to write a biography) and for the insight it gives into the life and work of an extraordinary, monstrous, loveable man.