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  • Jill
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 31 December 2011
I remember Philip Larkin as a looming figure, in a literal sense - he was tall, stalking the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull. I was, of course, aware of his poetry but unaware that he had written novels. Discovering 'Jill' was therefore an unexpected pleasure. Larkin, in the foreword to the 1963 reprint of Jill, stated that the novel was in effect an extended short story. Whilst not as rounded a work as some, I think Larkin understated its credentials as a novel. Where Larkin excels is in painting the mood and environs of wartime Oxford and Oxford University in particular. The reader becomes immersed in the physicality of the setting through Larkin's gift for minute observation and description - he distils the essence of the moment. His descriptions of weather are particularly lyrical. His evocation of the awkwardness and apprehension of the youngster from a working class non-university family who finds himself in an alien environment where everyone else seems so very confident in themselves, will evoke sympathetic memories in anyone who experienced the same.
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on 6 July 2006
Although written when he was only 21, this book is a good precursor to the poetry that Larkin is famous for. Beautifully written, sharp, crisp,strangely evocative of a far bygone era. John Kemp, from a middle-class background, is a new student in the world of Oxford where he meets people different and more well off than himself. Struggling to fit in, he invents a school-girl sister named Jill...who becomes more than a figment of his imagination when he encounters Gillian. Lovely read. Highly recommended
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on 26 October 2013
I had been unaware until recently that Larkin had written any novels and was prompted by curiosity to read this, his first. It is beautifully written and includes descriptions of the minutiae of everyday life that evoke the atmosphere of Oxford in the 1940s. I was interested to find that he writes in such detail about women and girls, especially as he wrote this novel at a young age. I felt that the book tailed off at the end and left questions hanging - what did John Kemp's parents think of him at that stage and what did he do next?
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on 8 July 2012
People generally review this book by looking at Larkin's poetry first, and then this sort of literary 'stub' afterwards - so it makes sense to them that this was some form of rehearsal for all the beautiful poetry he wrote later on.

In his own correspondence he says "I persuade words into being poetry & don't bully them" and that's probably the best way to describe this novel apart from telling people what it is about (Oxford, wartime, male friendship and bonding, ego inflation, infatuation and...I won't spoil the ending). He forced beautiful words into a novel but didn't quite finish it off and if my memory serves me correctly, he wasn't enthused about having it published once it was finished as he wasn't particularly proud of it. So alas, it fizzles out towards the end but it's a very lovely read if you don't expect books that go out with a bang. This one goes out with the proverbial whimper. Personally I found too much of a nice thing hard to read at times, particularly as the character's imagination weaved more and more imaginary tales.

Once you're done and have read some of his poetry too, do visit Christopher Hitchen's controversial essay on Larkin for a glimpse of the man himself if you haven't yet done so and see if it changes how you feel about this book. It might. The essay ("Philip Larkin, the Impossible Man") is included in 'Arguably'.
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on 28 December 2014
A well written and absorbing book with early touches in prose of the economical eye for detail that marked out much of Larkin's later poetry. Use of the third person narrative is interesting given the writer's own background and that of his main male character.

From a poet who always seemed middle-aged and who observed,,isolated, on the borders of life, this is a refreshingly youthful and vibrant piece from a poet whose greatest achievements lay ahead of him. Larkin keeps the reader guessing as to what will happen next and there are unexpected twists and turns that hold one's attention from start to finish. With the main character, John Kemp, so isolated and frequently out of his depth, I felt it almost became the reader's role to look out for him and see he came to no lasting harm.
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on 8 March 2014
I read this for book group and it was lovely to go back to the author now I am older and possibly wiser. The story is written with eloquence and lots of themes to discuss. Heavily immersed into contemporary fiction going back to older works like this one if quite refreshing. Larkin was good at story telling as well as writing poems.
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on 28 July 2016
For a first novel, very good. Larkin's portrayal of the characters is intriguing and his writing style very readable: it carries one on to read more. It is also an interesting time piece of the early 1940s in Oxford, where Larkin was a student.
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on 13 October 2015
I have had this book for while now and because Phillip Larkin represents poetry for me i have not got round to reading it.
Now that i have i am so glad.
It was a most enjoyable book and well written
Great advice from the gramma school teacher to John with reference on how to use his experience at university
I am now going to read his book A Girl In Winter
Great Book a well written story and yes it does slip away at the end but that does not detract from the book
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on 4 May 2013
I really loved this cleverly-observed, moving novel. I've admired Larkin's poetry for a long time but this is the first prose of his that I have read, and I will certainly be looking out for more.
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on 19 March 2001
This semi-autobiographical novel of a young, northen man coming up to Oxford displays how easily Philip Larkin, already recognised as a poetic genius, can turn his hand to prose. This beautifuly written book shares with the reader what it was like for a lower-middle class scholar to be immersed in wartime Oxford, with the college bounder as a roommate. Highly recommended.
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