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This article is taken from PN Review 223, Volume 41 Number 5, May - June 2015.

Larkin: Nice and Nasty Grevel Lindop
JAMES BOOTH Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love (Bloomsbury) £25.00

For those who know Andrew Motion’s Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life, the first thought on picking up James Booth’s new biography may well be ‘Do we really need it?’ Motion’s was a long, detailed, and very well-written account by a fellow-poet who had known Larkin personally. Although Larkin’s life, like anyone’s, had its shades, subtleties, and tensions, it was not a very complicated one. There was little travel, no marriage or children, few moves or job changes. He wrote a respectable quantity but was not prolific. And although Motion’s book appeared more than twenty years ago, and new poems and letters have been published, together with Booth’s own edition of Larkin’s curious schoolgirl stories in Trouble at Willow Gables and Other Fictions, none of this has required fundamental reinterpretation of either life or work.

Booth sets out the new book’s raison d’être in his Introduction. The effect of Anthony Thwaite’s selection of the letters, followed by Motion’s biography, was to present Larkin as Mr Nasty: ‘a Tory snob with sexist and racist tendencies’, as one reviewer summed up. Yet Booth, while admitting that ‘there is no requirement that poets should be likeable or virtuous’, finds that ‘those who shared [Larkin’s] life simply do not recognize the Mr Nasty version’. Rather, ‘all those who were close to him remember him with affection and feel privileged to have known him’. Clearly, Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love is to be the case for the ...

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