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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Self's the man, 12 Feb. 2012
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This review is from: Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica (Hardcover)
These letters apparently came to light after the Selected Letters were published. Taken along with the latter, and the Andrew Motion biography, this makes for a rounded picture of Larkin.

Larkin was a chameleon in correspondence, in that he adapted the style and subject matter of his letters to the addressee. compare the letters to Kingsley Amis, for instance, to those to Barbara Pym - one laddish and irascible (like Amis), the other old-maidish (prim like Pym). In contrast, those to Monica Jones, his long-term partner, are intimate and affectionate, and seem, to me at least, to be the closest to the 'real' Larkin.

He must have been an infuriating person. What struck me is the self-absorption of his letters - endless trivial detail of the food he eats, the records he listens to, the books he reads, his groans of despair at having to work, his gripes over money, his constant feeling of being put-upon by the presence of others (which to Larkin amounts to theft of his time and energy), and, most of all, the horror of other peoples' noise. Very rarely does he refer to anything of Monica's life.

But despite all that, you can understand why women found him attractive. He's emotionally sensitive, expressive and funny. He is also affectionate, albeit in a slightly distant way. He refers to Jones throughout as a rabbit ('Dearest Bun') which paradoxically also seems a way of distancing her from him.

There is a lot of intentional humour here, which also emerges in some of the poems, but there's a lot that's unintentionally comic, too. Larkin's resentment of others is particularly funny. He grinds his teeth with fury at the unfairness of having to work; he is appalled and disgusted by his fellow-lodgers; their radios drive him mad (while ironically his letters are also full of the radio programmes he he inflicts on them - cricket, jazz, Handel, The Archers); his mother and sister seem to be a grave disappointment to him. 'Selfish' doesn't begin to cover this. Larkin also struggles to keep Jones at arm's length; he constantly apologises for not being ready or willing to marry. He also apologises several times for his sexual apathy towards her. So Larkin was no bedroom beast then; but he used the distance he kept between himself and Jones to provide him with the freedom to work his way steadily through the female staff at Belfast and Hull.

But this selfishness was the price to pay for his brilliant, detached poetry. One of the joys of this book is to see some of the best known poems emerge. We see him wrestling with early drafts, with appeals to Jones for advice and support. This is a fascinating part of the book.

One nice thing about the paperback is the photograph on the cover, of Larkin and Jones on holiday in Sark in 1960. They face each other, about 10 yards apart, Larkin standing, Jones sitting. It's one of the happiest times of their lives, on a sunny, breezy day. This photo holds these two now-deceased people like a heaven. I found it incredibly poignant.

Overall, a lovely, funny book, a satisfying completion of our picture of Larkin. You have to warm to anyone who, while discussing the Archers, expresses a desire to drive a tractor over Walter Gabriel's face. Highly recommended for fans, but I do think that even non-fans would be charmed by it.
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