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Customer Review

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adds intrigue to the Larkin enigma., 9 July 2007
This review is from: A Girl in Winter (Paperback)
The first thing to say about this novel is the perfected beauty of its descriptions. Larkin himself viewed the novels as long poems of a sort, and these chapters of elegant prose back up that claim. Moreover, with so small an output, the book represents something of a booty to people searching for more of Larkin's effortless writing. Several chapters, made up of a page or so of scene-setting, evoke mediations like 'A slight relax of air' and others. Likewise during the more lengthy chapters there are always a store of lengthy descriptions that evoke place with an assured balance between objective and subjective perception. Remembering that Larkin was still in his early twenties at the time of writing, the stately opening of the novel, detailing a winter landscape, points beyond 'The North Ship' towards his mature poetry.

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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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Apr 2011 20:31:51 BDT
transponder says:
Having just read the book, I'd like to point out (with spoiling anything) that:
1) the other characters did not strike me as '2D' or cliched or unconvincing;
2) Anstey does not reappear 'only as hearsay' but is part of the climactic action at the end;
3) the dentist's office section arguably serves to anchor the story in the moment-to-moment present, where it returns in the third part. Without that 'day-in-the-life' anchor, the story might have seemed too wandering.
4) The plot seems fine; I didn't see anything wrong with it.
5) The scene at the end is very effective.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 May 2011 12:21:16 BDT
ABC says:
Although the review by S M. Davies is fair and sympathetic I do agree with points 1, 2 and 4 made by Reader. Although the "dentist scene" was too long didn't it contribute to the fact that all the characters seemed emotionally isolated? Nothing was resolved and perhaps that was the point but, nevertheless, I would have liked to have known what disaster brought Katherine back to England.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Jul 2011 17:43:07 BDT
Fair comments. I thought Jack Stormalong was weak, and quite a few other characters. I just think that I like the book more for the quality of its expression than for anything that actually happens. Perhaps that's enough, though. The book is profoundly sad, especially at the end, and it kind of sums up that period of history pretty well.
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