Hollis' book is a marvelous achievement. I have admired Thomas' poetry for years but knew remarkably little about the man beyond his literary reputation, his war-service and his background in reviewing and 'nature' writing. This book presents us with an often unsympathetic figure, largely because of his troubled family-life where he often seems surly, irascible, even psychologically brutal with his wife and children. (His struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide are sympathetically treated, but Hollis does not shy away from the awful impact his moods must have had on those closest to him. This can make for disturbing reading!) Yet Hollis explores his writing wonderfully, brilliantly contextualising it in the literary culture of the period. The Georgians, the Poetry Bookshop, The Dymock Poets, Pound, Yeats, Rupert Brooke, WH Davis and many others move in and out of focus as the narrative progresses and are fascinating in themselves. However, the key interest must be Thomas's initially hesitant movement from increasingly 'jobbing' prose to poetry. What an extraordinary burst of creativity in his last couple of years! Robert Frost's place in Thomas's life is thoroughly explored and emerges as the great formative friendship, the midwife to Thomas's emergence as a poet of great importance.
Hollis writes beautifully, with the right balance of sensitive analysis when considering the poems (this is NOT, thankfully a text book approach to the work) and he is always sympathetic, though not blinkered, about his subject. By the end, I felt I understood the work far more, albeit at the cost of admiring Thomas the man a good deal less. And another caveat is the rather brusque rendering of Thomas's last days, though one could argue the very brevity of the account paradoxically emphasises the terrible randomness and ubiquity of such deaths.
The Kindle edition is well-formatted and the illustrations are fully accessible: the maps are rather less so. For Kindle readers, I would also recommend The Collected Poems of Edward Thomas
, which seems to be without the frequent glitches and proof reading howlers of so many cheap Kindle poetry collections.