Anthony Burgess

Not a Very Lovely Thing to Be

Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life

By

Faber & Faber 552pp £17.50 order from our bookshop

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:

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