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Winner of this year's Ellerbeck Literary Award
on 1 July 2003
J L Carr, was a man whose name is as enigmatic and as varied as his writing. Christened as Joseph, know to his friends as Jim and published at least once as James, J L Carr is quite possibly one of the finest English novelists of the 20th century. He was also well known for being a private and closed person, who presented a different side of his character to different people. And for being a puckish humorist who enjoyed teasing the literary establishment. As he did with the biographer Michael Holroyd to whom he awarded the fictitious Ellerbeck Literary Award, along with a remaindered copy of "The Harpole Report" and a token for a pound a best steak.
An enigma. A private person. A bit of "card". A tough proposition for any biographer, let alone one who confesses at the start of the book, "until I started writing this book, I had little idea of what biography involved". And yet, Byron Rogers' painstakingly researched, beautifully written and immensely pleasing book is not only a worthy tribute to his memory and achievements but in its own right, a fine example of the biographer's art.
Perhaps his lack of experience as a biographer is the reason that he devoted the time and effort to track down and interview first hand the witnesses to the events in Carr's life. This not only includes friends and colleagues but also pupils and even parents of the children he taught both in the UK, and on his two exchange experiences in the US.
This research gives the reader familiar with Carr's work a fascinating insight into where the facts of his life merged into the fiction he wrote. On several occasions Rogers reminds us that Carr's publishers would have had a heart attack if they knew just how close to real and living individuals some of the fictional characters in his books really were.
If there is one biographical work you should buy this year, this is it. Here is the story of an Englishman, his love of the real England (outside of London!), his devotion to his profession (both teaching and writing) and how his life experiences found their way into some of the most urbane, original and exquisite literature of the last 50 years.
By the time the book is finished, I felt as though I had really come to know J L Carr, almost to the extent that I could sit down in the pub with his friends and swap stories. The book itself includes some excellent photographs in which readers familiar with Carr's work will recognise many references to his works.
The real legacy of this work is that Rogers' book will be available for many generations in the future to understand the context and complexity of J L Carr and for that both he and his subject will be remembered for many years.
NOTE on 09/2006: I think it an absolute crime that this book is currently unavailable. It is a classic and well worth the money for any true J L Carr fan.