Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life by Andrew Motion - review by Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess

Not a Very Lovely Thing to Be

Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life

By

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That title is misleading, as is the identical declaration of trade on the poet's tombstone. Larkin wrote, and wrote well, but he did not write for a living. Those of his generation (to my shock I wake to the realisation of senior membership) who call themselves writers practice all the genres and will write anything for money – even, like Auden, for a brace of cheap cigars. Larkin was a fine if costive poet, an eccentric reviewer of jazz records, and a very occasional literary essayist. He wrote two novels, as well as, under a female pseudonym, a couple of vaguely erotic school stories, and then found the needful narrative thrust too difficult. He saw with envy the skill and massive success of Lucky Jim, a novel of which he may be considered the hero, and he was nasty towards those of us who went abroad to write:

'The shit in the shuttered château
Who does his five hundred words
Then parts out the rest of the day
Between bathing and booze and birds.'

Well, a thousand actually, though Graham Greene limited himself to two hundred.

Larkin lived on a librarian's salary; poems, including poetry prizes, raised him above the level of bare

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