A Girl in Winter Paperback – 3 Mar 2005
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"'A Girl in Winter is a beautifully constructed, funny and profoundly sad book.' Andrew Motion"
A Girl in Winter by Philip Larkin is the poet's second novel, memorable for its compassionate precision and for the unmistakable distinction of its writing.See all Product description
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"A Girl In Winter" is Larkin's second and final novel, written whilst he was lonely in Wellington, Shropshire, working as a librarian. THis may account for the somewhat disconsolate feel of the novel; it is beautifully written but somewhat cold, as suggested by the title.
In the book, Katherine is working as a provincial librarian. She takes a colleague to the dentist and discovers a letter when she returns home saying that a man from her past will be visiting. The novel then flashes back, explaining how they met through a penfriend scheme at school, and how she was invited to stay one summer. We follow her visit with the Fennels during the summer, and then return to the present, where Katherine meets the young man, Robin, in rather dispiriting circumstances.
I found this book an exceptional read. Larkin's prose is exceptionally good, considering he write this when 21-22, and is highly sympbolic without being obtrusive. It aspires to being allegorical without losing sight of the plot or the characters, as perhaps Joyce's "Ulysses" does. Most of the plot concerns Katherine's various degree of self-deception, as she seeks to understand Robin, his sister Jane and the Fennel family as a whole. In the final section, Katherine's deceptions come to an end and she becomes, as Larkin was to later say, one of the less received. But this entails a painful recognition of the limitations of the self, and of the ability of others to please you.
I much prefer this novel to "Jill" because it has far richer, subtler prose and is less plainly semi-autobiographical. Larkin describes places with, as you'd exepct, great skill and vividness. "A Girl In Winter" is a real gem, an often-overlooked treasure of a novel.
So, not for those who are looking for a fast-paced, plot-driven blockbuster - but if you like Larkin's poetry and want a thought-provoking and evocative read, I cannot recommend this highly enough!
Katherine Lind is a refugee in her early 20s, in the latter years of the Second World War, working as a library junior in an ugly provincial English city. It is in the midst of a cold, snowy winter and she suffers as a rather lonely foreigner in a mean, dull and impoverished country that is still trying to recover from the War. Larkin does not tell us which country Katherine lived in – presumably Germany or possibly France, or indeed, what were the circumstances that prompted her to flee to Britain.
Before the War, Katherine stayed in England with her pen pal friend, Robin Fennel and his family in a small village in Oxfordshire for three weeks. The core of the book documents this near idyllic stay during a hot summer in the English countryside. When she returned to England, under very different circumstances after the War, she was reluctant to contact the Fennels once more, even though she was otherwise rather lonely and certainly not very happy with her job in the library. Contact is re-established with the Fennels, but it all seems to be rather disappointing and Katherine tries to find a way forward in her straightened circumstances.
For this reason, anyone who likes Larkin's poetry - and particularly his lyrical poems such as 'Here' and 'The Trees' - will find plenty to like in here.
However, from a plot point of view lovers of fiction will frown on some of Larkin's mistakes. Even as a Larkin 'fan', there are plenty of errors in the novel that easily explain why the prose hasn't been afforded the same critical attention as the poetry. Despite the frequent brilliance of the writing (the tentative symbolism at the end of the novel is a fine example), there are enough flaws both in character construction and plot to weary or put off an experienced reader. For instance, the division of the plot into three parts rather crudely commands the material: certain episodes, such as Katherine's taking Miss Green to the dentist, take far too long. We also have the introduction of a main character, Anstey, who is presented as a crucial character and then unexpectedly recedes, appearing again only in hearsay. As lyrical poet (this was early Larkin, of course), you sense that Larkin is more concerned with evoking place than his actual characters, and although Katherine Lind is a neatly drawn and interesting centre, all the others are average at best, clichéd and two-dimensional at the worst.
So buy this novel if you like Larkin's poetry, but if you are a reader primarily of fiction, this may frustrate you - a lot. Larkin clearly had a talent for writing in general, but the attention to character at times unconvincing and superficial.
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Love his poetry.