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Monthly Carcanet Books

This review is taken from PN Review 110, Volume 22 Number 6, July - August 1996.

AUTUMNAL LIGHT NEIL POWELL, Roy Fuller: Writer and Society (Carcanet)£25

It is the life rather than the work which the contemporary reader wants; not the parts of the life that will illuminate the work, but the parts of the work that will serve as props or clues in a dramatised version of the life: poet as drunk, poet as lecher, poet as suicide, anything except poet as poet. Even where there is a will, there is no sure way nowadays for writers to limit the posthumous use and abuse of their personal papers. The lucrative market for literary archives ensures that, whatever the testatory wishes of an author, the most private material enters the public domain with indecent speed. 'Incautious to the point of innocence' was Alfred Com's assessment of Philip Larkin's epistolary style. Never such innocence again…

A building society solicitor who lived with his lifelong spouse in a suburban bungalow, and whose poetry sales were so unspectacular that he was ultimately forced to wander from publisher to publisher like a poetry refugee, may not seem a likely subject for a contemporary biography. Neil Powell, however, is content to foreground the work rather than the man and to delicately sketch in the personal background. Superficially at least, Roy Fuller might be regarded as a confessional writer. He produced hundreds of pages of memoirs: his novels contain heavily autobiographical episodes; and many of his poems have the qualities of a good journal. Unlike the American school of confessional writers, though, Roy Fuller has less interest in hyping ...


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