Philip Larkin: a Writer's Life, Paperback Book
2.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


'An exemplary biography of its kind - detailed, meticulous and sympathetic.' Peter Ackroyd, The Times'Larkin lived a quietly noble and exemplary version of the writer's life; Motion - affectionate but undeceived about the man's frailties, a diligent researcher and a deft reader of poetry - has written an equally exemplary 'Life' of him.' Peter Conrad, Observer'Honest but not prurient, critical but also compassionate, Motion's book could not be bettered.' Alan Bennett, London Review of Books'There will be other lives of Larkin, but Motion's, like Forster's of Dickens, will always have a special place.' John Carey, Sunday Times


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Biography: general
  • ISBN: 9780571170654

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Poets are a bit like comedians, in my book. It is not that they make you laugh, but that I have to like the poet to like his/her work. I knew that reading a biography of Larkin could destroy any enjoyment of his poetry and, sadly, that is what this book has done.It is hard to know how far to blame Larkin, and where to put the responsibility onto Andrew Motion's shoulders. Larkin knew that he was somewhat lacking in the social skills. Motion professes to have been a friend of Larkin but the book, which the London Review of Books described as, "Honest but not prurient", often reads to me as 'catty'. Motion will say (paraphrased) Larkin hated foreigners, treated his women (including mum) appallingly, sometimes appeared to know only four letter adjectives, but was, really, a nice man. This comes across as disingenuous. The only two times, in the entire book, that I found any sympathy with Larkin was in two events towards the end of his life. Firstly, he accidentally kills a hedgehog, with his lawn mower. He had been feeding the little chap each morning and was distraught, crying inconsolably - almost the first sign of human sentiment that he shows. He then gains brownie points for his treatment of Monica, through her illness, where he finds that he is more upset than her, when she moves out.Motion passes off Larkin's extreme right wing views as based upon ignorance, and thus excusable. He (Motion) seems to delight in Larkin's confusion when his heroine, Margaret Thatcher, becomes PM and promptly proceeds to tear down the grants to universities, and libraries in general.Larkin, I believe, knew that his life was not something of which to be proud and that was why he begged for his diaries to be destroyed: perhaps, it would have been better for him to be thought a bigot, for remarks in his work, than to have the full extent of his bigotry so ruthlessly exposed.Informative, but not, for me, an enjoyable read.

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