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Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love Hardcover – 28 Aug 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (28 Aug 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408851660
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408851661
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 4.7 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


James Booth has written a literary biography which is both elegant and moving, conveying the shape of a life - and a love-life - as sensitively as he conveys the shape of the poetic oeuvre ... At the core of the book is the poetry, which Booth analyses in a reader-friendly manner, without verbosity but with passion and precision. He provides new perspectives on the early novels and poems, and explores the symbolist dimension which is so essential for an understanding of Larkin - and there's a particularly fine-tuned discussion of the poet's more controversial views in the chapter on Jazz, Race and Modernism ... This is the first biography which, one feels, Larkin might have admitted to reading - and, even more unwillingly, enjoying (Carol Rumens)

Illuminating . Booth provides new material drawn from interviews with the various women involved, all of whom are cited in support of the view that Larkin the man has been maligned . For Larkin fans James Booth's book should be a satisfactory detailed understanding of familiar story told with wholehearted admiration and scholarly command (Literary Review)

For all the shakiness of his efforts to explain away Larkin's private transgressions, his book is much more enjoyable than Motion's **** (Daily Telegraph)

Nobody could tease out more meanings from a Larkin line than he . Booth usefully highlights Larkin's graveyard humour, his passion for jazz, his capacity to surprise people with kindness, and his tireless poetic search to define "something hidden from us" (Sunday Times)

He provides a detailed picture of Larkin in post, especially in his dealings with mostly female staff (Independent)

Superb . Booth's psychology is subtler than Motion's and more convincing. His achievement is to paint a satisfying and believably complex picture . Compelling and makes clear how unmistakeably Larkin belongs among the greats (Peter J. Conradi, Spectator)

Fine-grained, thoughtful . This biography is full of such wise textual analysis, and for that it should be read (Erica Wagner, New Statesman)

Booth is, quite simply, the ultimate Larkin enthusiast . Booth is absolutely excellent on the work . To read this book through, turning back to the poems in sequence, is to appreciate Larkin's development more intimately than has been possible before (Evening Standard)

Booth's diligence is unquestionable and even readers who think they know the poems will see nuances they had previously missed . Booth's supplement to Andrew Motion's biography - the light to his shadow - should render further attention by biographers superfluous for several years (Guardian)

Engrossing and, at least some of the way, a persuasive account . Booth also unearths new evidence to establish that Larkin was, to all who dealt with him during his three decades as a librarian, a likeable colleague and a fair boss . he is excellent on the poetry which is . the testimony that really matters (The Times)

Challenging the myth that Larkin was a miserable misogynist, drawing on testimony from women friends, university contemporaries and previously unseen letters to reveal him as delightful company in person as well as on the page (Daily Telegraph)

Highly sympathetic biography of Britain's favourite poet (Sunday Times Must Reads)

Booth's achievement isn't just to make us think more fondly of Larkin as a man - it's to send us rushing back to his poems, and to love them anew **** (Mail on Sunday)

A warm portrait (Daily Telegraph)

His examination of the poems is exemplary, always intelligent and free of jargon, and the manner in which he relates them to Larkin's life will enhance many readers' appreciation of the poetry and deepen their enjoyment . This is a very good biography, both judicious and generous (Scotsman)

Booth's attempt to understand Larkin through his interaction with others is inspired (Sunday Telegraph)

Nails the poetry . Booth is certainly less sententious than Motion; he leans towards understanding rather than judgment, which seems to me to be the bigger part of the biographer's job (Observer)

Lively and entertaining . As a literary biography, Booth's book is much closer to the work than Motion's was, and draws on a knowledge of first-hand and archive sources unlikely to be matched by any future biographer (Irish Times)

Thank you, James Booth . Booth, a long-time colleague, has done an impressive job in his book . If Booth finally succeeds in correcting the view of Larkin and reminding us of the glories of the poetry, he will have done us all a service. And old Philip, too (Herald)

Booth takes a more human and measured, less judgemental, approach to the contradictions in Larkin's personality than Motion did . Compelling (Yorkshire Post)

Booth is more attentive to the personalities of the women themselves and proposes a persuasive counter-argument (Oldie)

Booth is probably more familiar with the poet's archive than anyone else alive (Times Literary Supplement)

Booth is an excellent guide to just why a Larkin poem can merit being called great . Booth has not written an academic book. He has written a book of the higher journalism, which is still the kind of attention Larkin needs (Clive James, New York Times)

Booth, for 17 years a colleague of Larkin's at Hull University, must be congratulated for restoring some balance and warmth [to Larkin] (Nicholas Shakespeare, Daily Telegraph Biographies of the Year)

Sets out to rescue Larkin from pantomime-villainy with this sensitive and readable life (Sunday Times Literary Non-fiction of the Year)

James Booth's Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love goes a long way to helping us understand the man better, as well as the problems he wrote (Richard Holloway, Herald Books of the Year)

A persuasive attempt to rescue the English poet' and his work from recent biographic exposés of his racism and misogyny (Guardian)

Booth does a valiant job in persuading us that Larkin was more sensitive, kinder and wittier than his detractors would have it. Anyhow, if nothing else, it reminds us how bittersweet and sensitive his poetry was (Robbie Millen, The Times Biographies of the Year)

The words of his late poem, "Aubade", are a bleak reminder of "the dread/Of dying, and being dead" which he felt so keenly, and yet here, through biography, he lives on (Marcus Field, Independent Biographies of the Year)

Book Description

A fascinating and controversial study of Philip Larkin's world and how it bled into his work, James Booth's biography is a unique insight into the man whose life and art have been misunderstood for too long

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By emma who reads a lot TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 31 Aug 2014
Format: Hardcover
Rarely does a biography have the flowing impetus of a novel, where you find yourself longing to get back to it, daydreaming through work about finding out 'what happens next'. It's obvious why that is - mostly, you already know a life's ending... But James Booth's biography of Larkin seems in several ways to me to be a major achievement. Firstly, it's enormously generous, about a man who has definitely been subject to most of the central twentieth century accusations (racist, misogynist, pervert, Thatcherite, imperialist, even Nazi - see the detailed discussion of Sidney Larkin's mantelpiece ornaments...).

Booth is determined to retell Larkin's story as that of a kindly boss, encouraging his female staff to sit exams and get qualifications (as well as sometimes admiring their figures and vicariously enjoying their love affairs) a warm friend, and a devoted if utterly confused son and lover to Monica, his main lifetime companion. But at the same time as arguing for the good in Larkin, he never deceives the reader as to the vacillation, the desire for solitude, the duplicity, which the man possessed. (And even where you completely disagree with his conclusions, failing to damn Larkin for what I can only see as racism, for example, he provides enough quotes for you to make your own mind up, which I did.)

This is also a biography fundamentally centred on the poetry, and if you don't have a copy of the poems I'd order one because there are pages and pages of good detailed analysis. Both weigh in together at just under 1.5kilos, so it's a commitment to read it on the tube... and yet I did make that commitment and was glad every time.

Most of all, as well as seeming fair, interesting, balanced and knowledgable, it's an enjoyable read - with just the right level of detail.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By constable59 on 3 Oct 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As I knew many of the actors by sight in both Leicester and Hull this account provided a fascinating insight into what was going on 'behind the scenes'. A strength is the examination of the relationships between Larkin's writing and the complexities of his private life. A weakness for the general reader (such as myself) and possibly a strength for the Eng Lit grad is the dissection of the technicalities of the poems. The author might have gained a lot by following Larkin and ensuring a word appearing in one chapter does not appear in another. I lost count of the number of epiphanies!!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Obelix on 4 Oct 2014
Format: Hardcover
When Letters to Monica was published in 2011, you might have been forgiven for thinking the stink left after the publication of Larkin's biography and selected letters had long dispersed. After Motion's biography followed Richard Bradford's, then Maeve Brennan's memoir, to say nothing of a steady flow of intelligent criticism. Larkin topped The Times' list of the best 50 writers since World War II; his Collected Poems secured a place in John Carey's Pure Pleasure, a list of the best 50 books of the twentieth century. After a brief but furious debate about the man's character, it seemed, the work stood inviolate as ever. Was another biography, then, seeking to 'reinstate a man misunderstood', necessary?

Booth, unsurprisingly, thinks so. His credentials - at first - seem right. Booth was a colleague of Larkin's at the University of Hull for seventeen years, has published two critical studies on Larkin, is the Literary Adviser to the Philip Larkin Society, co-edits its journal, and saw an edition of Larkin's early fiction into print. His Larkin on Ice, presumably, is forthcoming.

Booth's credentials, while extensive, are also his major weakness. He writes as if Larkin's reputation was still locked away in a tower, awaiting the heroic Sir James to turn up and rescue it single-handed. Booth's constant finger-wagging at, variously, Larkin's women, friends, acquaintances, publishers, biographers, critics, together with the weather, Hull, London, the provinces, and readers of Larkin's poems besides Booth himself, is rather annoying.

To give credit where it's due, the biography pours more smoothly than any before it. Making the life of a partially deaf, unmarried, Hull-dwelling, near-hermit Librarian sound interesting is a feat by anyone's standards.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dr. R. Brandon TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 17 Nov 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a good book, and an interesting book, but readers should know that it is really quite a difficult read in parts; that is, difficult in terms of comprehension, not in emotional terms. James Booth, who was in the Department of English at the University of Hull and who has written critical studies of Larkin's work in the past, is well suited to the task of chronicling the life and work of Larkin. Booth provides a straightforward narrative of Larkin's early life and education and the influence of his accomplished father and trips to Germany. He tells of the lifelong relationships formed at Oxford, particularly with Kingsley Amis and Bob Conquest and of the various career moves, if they may be called that, to Belfast and Hull. Naturally all this is overlaid with the other major influences on Larkin's life and poetry, namely his various girlfriends. Much space is given to his lifelong relationship with Monica Jones, and also with Maeve Brennan and latterly Betty Mackereth, as well as other early loves.
Much of the early part of the book deals with Larkin's prose work which is, perhaps, less familiar to many of his admirers. The author is well placed to provide a fair and extensive review of this work which he seems to conclude is rather good. The difficulty referred to above arises from the academic analysis of the poetry of Larkin which, of course, takes place throughout the work with several chapters devoted entirely to such dissection. I feel certain that Booth has done an excellent job and that his analyses will be of great value to students of Larkin's work. However, not being in possession of a degree in English, this can be very heavy going and many of the `technical' terms were beyond me.
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