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:

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,