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Book reviews for "Larkin,_Philip" sorted by average review score:

Published in Paperback by Overlook Press (1993)
Author: Philip Larkin
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What a Lark(in)!
Larkin, generally acknowledged as Britain's finest post-war poet, along with Betjeman, wrote only two novels, both in his fertile early period. 'Jill' is his first serious attempt at sustained prose writing, and the result is a fine, stimulating book.

'Jill' began life as a cross between a girls' school novel pastiche and mild pornography called 'Trouble at Willow Gables', an origin that manifests itself throughout the finished work, bubbling salaciously beneath the surface of John Kemp's escapist scribblings. John, of course, is a typically Larkin-esque protagonist - socially awkward, an outsider, and, like his creator, constantly struggling with the remains of a stammer. The portrait is, as only Larkin could draw it, at once affectionately tongue-in-cheek and unremittingly brutal (John's intrusion on the tea-party early on is to die for). What may alarm Larkin's readers (having recovered from the shock delivered by the life and letters) is the deep-rooted distrust of the imaginative faculties emerging in 'Jill'.

We watch with horror as John begins to invent a younger sister for himself with a paranoia approaching downright madness. His creation is born from malice and a sense of exclusion, exacerbated by humiliation upon humiliation heaped upon his shoulders and, having its inception in unhealthy emotion, his fantasy sends him spiralling deeper into a delusion culminating in his drunken violation of the girl on to whom he has transferred his invented sibling.

'Jill' is a novel of both tremendous wit and cruelty. The Larkin of the poems is clearly visible here, brooding on deception and deprivation, gently self-deprecating. 'Jill' is an essential read for admirers of Larkin, providing an important insight into his life and thought, as well as a glimpse of an angry, ambitious young man before the weariness set in.

Great War Reading
Phillip Larkin is known as perhaps the greatest British pPoet of the second half of the twentieth century. This book, of a northern, working class boy's first term at Oxford in the grim fall of 1940, offers unparalelled reading pleasure.

Larkin wrote this book in his early twenties, when the war was still very much in progress, and its outcome uncertain. That is only one of the reason I'd recommend it over the many romanticized WW II stories written afterwards, especially in the last decade, when revisionist history takes over, and we sketch characters of the forties as if they had the insights of the nineties.

Here you get the real thing. The war is a presence in the gritty little details of life -- the privations, the routine of putting up the blackout in defense of bombing raids. Towards the end of the book, the hero returns to his northern town to find it devastated.

I found Jill, and Larkin's second and final novel, A Girl in Winter, also set during war-time, bracing, even comforting reading during the first months of the current war. We see that, despite being shadowed by larger events, the inner workings of personality -- love, identity, pride -- carry on, in spite of all.

I wish Larkin had written more novels, or more novelists could write like him.

High Windows
Published in Hardcover by Arrow (A Division of Random House Group) (10 June, 1996)
Author: Philip Larkin
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Make time!
Phillip Larkin rocks. When I was a sophmore in college I burned down my dorm room and my copy of High Windows. It was truly tragic. This slim little volume contains some of Larkin's best work. It is wry, revealing, and sardonic in true Larkin fashion. I particularly like the title poem and None of the Books Have Time. Also, there's one in there about the stubborn stupidity of old folks that is absolutely delightful and hilarious though the title escapes me at the moment. Anyway, this small book that won't take up either much time to read or much space on the shelf is a delightful and highly recommended piece. One of my all-time favorites.

The Whitsun Weddings
Published in Audio Cassette by Penguin Audiobooks (1997)
Authors: Philip Larkin and Alan Bennett
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Excellent audio rendering of Larkin's poetry.
Larkin's poetry captures the melancholy, timelessness, and small dramas of everyday experience, and The Whitsun Weddings contains some of his best work (the title poem, Sunny Prestatyn, Dockerey and Son, for example). Alan Bennet's reading captures precisely the feeling of these poems. His careful, restrained inflections and changes of voice heighten Larkin's subtle effects and let each poem's feeling come in a natural and unforced way. A delightful tape from beginnning to end.

Collected Poems
Published in Hardcover by Farrar Straus & Giroux (1989)
Authors: Philip Larkin and Anthony Thwaite
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One of the greatest poets of the (past) century
Philip Larkin no longer needs any introduction: he is widely recognised as one of the greatest English poets of the twentieth century.
His poetry may however not be to everyone's taste: there is no place for lace and flowers in Larkin. His work is more often than not dark and reflects the feelings of a man who probably felt everything was wasting away about him: not only his own life, but the world as a whole. Through his poems we discover a man who seems to have skipped childhood and adolescence and who finds himself at fifty having had life pass him by. Larkin's poetry expresses his sourness, his fears, his repressed anger, his spite, his general disgust with society and the modern world. And it does this in the most expressive of ways, never shying away from the words that seem necessary, however crude they might be. There is much beauty in his despair.
If you are sensitive to poetry, then you cannot avoid reading Larkin. Be warned however that you should not read Larkin to brighten up your life: the "happy poems" are few and far between. But read him nonetheless and decide afterwards whether his work is to your liking. He may just hit the spot on one of those lonely evenings when you feel yourself that everything just isn't as it should be. And after that, you will never be able to separate yourself from a copy of Philip Larkin's Collected Poems...

Larkin will make you love poetry
Philip Larkin once remarked that he felt the poet should take the reader by the hand and lead them right into the poem. Maybe that is just another way of saying that his poems are accessible and will touch you even when reading them for the first time.

Yes, Larkin does embody the somewhat grumpy spirit of post-war Britain, but like all good poetry they are about the something that seems to be missing in our lives. There are some feelings no writer has ever put more precisely. Formally rather conservative (rhyme, no daring metaphors), the vocabulary is utterly down to earth. "Talking in bed should be easiest," Larkin begins, only to find out that with the lengthening of the silence "It becomes stil more difficult to find / Words at once true and kind, / Or not untrue and not unkind."

The feelings expressed may not always be nice, nor is this much of a self-help book, so it is utterly opposed to the spirit of our times, but this "old-type natural fouled up-guy" will make you love poetry if you are not yet sure about whether your do ("to prove our almost-instinct almost true: / What will survive of us is love.") Get this European poet looking at himself as if he were a complete stranger as a contrast to you confessional poets!

Very Rewarding Reading
This is the standard edition of Larkin's poetry. Larkin did not publish a great deal in his lifetime and the addition of a number of previously unpublished poems adds a good deal to his canon. Even with these additions, Larkin was not prolific and wrote no long poems. His reputation rests on a number of short poems written in a characteristic and deceptively simple style. Larkin achieved both accessibility and considerable power with direct, chiselled lyrics that use relatively simple words, metaphors, and allusions. His best poems deal with uncertainty, anxiety, the problems of aging, and aspects of personal disappointment. This wouldn't seem to be very promising but Larkin captures eloquently important aspects of life. There are also some fine and short nature poems. Easy to read and very rewarding.

Larkin's Jazz: Essays and Reviews, 1940-84
Published in Paperback by Continuum Pub Group (20 October, 2001)
Authors: Philip Larkin, Richard Palmer, and John White
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Larkin essays on jazz are insightful
For many years, Philip Larkin wrote reviews and essays on Jazz. He fell in love with the music as a young man. This love might seem odd, because Jazz is a distinctly American form of music (and Larkin almost never travelled abroad and never to America) and it is also dominated by African-Americans (Larkin has unkind things to say about minorities in his Collected Letters). Nevertheless, Larkin found in the music of Armstrong, Ellington, Basie, and others a joy that was missing from much of the rest of his life. One warning for serious Jazz fans -- for Larkin, the downfall of Jazz began with Charlie Parker. He had no interest in Parker, Mingus, Miles Davis, or almost anyone who recorded after the later 40's. In fact, he lumped Charlie Parker with Ezra Pound and Pablo Picasso as person with reputations as great artists, but whom he felt had a terrible effect on their art. In some ways, this book tells you as much about Larkin as Jazz. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm he had for Jazz, and his skill as an essayist make this an enjoyable book.

The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse
Published in Hardcover by Oxford University Press (1998)
Author: Philip Larkin
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Larkin's Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry
Readers of Larkin's excellent letters will have come across frequent complaints about his 'Oxford Book of Two Cent Verse' as he dismissivly calls it. Although he found the task of producing it onerous, it's very good -- if one accepts it for what it is.

Anthologies, having limited space, make a choice between representing the best writers at length, or representing a larger number of writers more briefly. Larkin chooses the latter: the book includes 584 poems by about 200 poets, which this means that many poets (outside the "greats" -- Hardy, Yeats and Eliot -- who are all fully represented) are represented by as little as two poems.

But this approach has virtues. Larkin includes poems by many poets who aren't considered "major writers"; and who, while often well-known in their lives, are not likely to be known to readers now. This is interesting, of course, as it reminds a reader that poets are not only influenced by the best writers, but also by the second best. There is also, perhaps, an attempt here to sketch a certain tradition of English twentieth century writing: one that, although it includes Eliot and Basil Bunting, is in the main, colloquial, unheroic and keen to document domestic events and emotions in poetry that is, if not strictly formal, at least nodding at formal arrangement.

Lovers of Larkin, or of the sort of poetry outlined above, may well find themselves overjoyed by this anthology. Readers whose tastes are for the outlandish, excessive and outragous may be impatient. Personally I think that poetry is at its healthiest when these two groups are not entirely separated: when they both can agree on certain writers to admire; and when both of them at least are aware of and respect the other's tastes.

Perhaps people who find themselves entirely in accord with this anthology should also look at Rosenthal's 'Poetry in English' -- a dull name but a fantastic anthology -- for an alternative view of Twentieth Century poetry. (And perhaps, for fuller coverage of the post-1960s poets, Lucie-Smith's 'British Poetry Since 1945'; and for a look at where this alternative English tradition can lead to, Crozier and Longville's 'A Various Art' or Sinclair's 'Conductors of Chaos'.) And for the opposite group: this anthology, with the reminder that Pound, the key figure in the Modernist movement, thought very highly of the key poetic figure in Larkin's English tradition, Thomas Hardy.

Required writing : miscellaneous pieces, 1955-1982
Published in Unknown Binding by Faber and Faber ()
Author: Philip Larkin
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Larkin's miscellanies
Readers who liked Larkin's poetry will find the same humorous and pessimistic point of view to like in Larkin the book reviewer and jazz critic.

This book gathers together Larkin's miscellanies. It consists of two interviews with Larkin, his introductions to his novels and books of poetry, talks about poetry, reviews of poetry anthologies, biographies and novels plus some material about jazz that is also included in his book "All What Jazz." Most of the writing is about literature and music with the exception of a review of a book on the language of children.

The poets discussed are almost all British poets of the late-19th and 20th century such as A.E. Housman, Stevie Smith, Wilfred Owen, John Betjeman, Thomas Hardy and W.H. Auden (the last two being Larkin's favorites). Throughout these writings, Larkin is seen fighting a battle against modernism. For him, the arts in the 20th century went astray with "(Ezra) Pound, Picasso and (Charlie) Parker." He prefers poems that "use language in the way we all use it" and music that is "an affair of nice noises rather than nasty ones." This is a reasonable asethetic principle but he restates enough times in the book to become a little repetitious.

There is still enough good stuff to make the book worthwhile. There's some funny patches such as Larkin's description of the "fleshy, inarticulate" and aging jazz fans "whose first coronary is coming like Christmas." As a critic and a writer, Larkin is all for providing pleasure, instead of material for earnest study. Many readers will be refreshed by this approach to literature.

Larkin on poetry and jazz
Anyone familar with Larkin's poetry will want to read this book of essays on literature and jazz. In it he demonstrates the same humor, common-sense, and intelligence that can be found in his poetry. His strong preference is for poets who are not deliberately obscure or difficult. Indeed, at times Larkin can sound almost anti-intellectual. This is misleading; he is very serious about his art. In this collection, he shows great insight into the works of other 20th Century British poets. His essays on jazz are more melancholy; for Larkin, jazz started going downhill with Bop. Nevertheless, his comments on jazz are insightful.

All what jazz : a record diary, 1961-1971
Published in Unknown Binding by Faber and Faber ()
Author: Philip Larkin
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Tedium, Thy Name is Larkin
All What Jazz, indeed. While Philip Larkin was a poet of some note, I'm thinking it probably didn't pay real well. So he got a gig, doing a monthly jazz column for the Daily Telegraph. He used this gig to blather endlessly of the superiority of Dixieland and trad jazz, and the travesty and utter disgrace that is modern jazz, i.e., bebop, hard bop, and horror above horrors, the dreaded free jazz. Indeed, the book opens with a quote from Miles Davis, trashing Ornette Coleman's music. Nothing like hiding behind an icon, there, Phil. Miles, who was the Charles Barkley of his day, would regularly say outrageous things for effect and "press." In print, the words look harsh - the printed page does not capture Miles's raspy cackle following his "quote." But the printed page does capture quite well the clammy, pasty discomfort that Larkin feels for modern jazz. Yes, pip-pip, give me the old Dixieland bands that I loved as a lad in prep school! OK, fine. A nice remembrance piece, on occasion, is nice. A barbed attack on an artist or genre can also be thought-provoking. (I've been known to dabble in such things...) However, Larkin did it EVERY MONTH for 10 years. Talk about a one trick pony, in an era that spawned creative genius and obliterated musical boundaries, Old Frumpy Phil is pining for the syncopated rhythms of his past. He would allow for Duke and Basie, but he had little use for Bird or Monk, and if he wasn't outright trashing them, he was smugly doling out left-handed compliments. But don't get him started on Trane, or, God forbid, Ornette. Truly the only book that I have read in anger, and out of morbid curiosity. Bottom line: it wasn't worth it. Save your money, or better yet, go buy a Coltrane disk!

Diary of a sourpuss
When a reviewer calls Coltrane's playing 'possessed continually by an almost Scandinavian unloveliness', and questions Thelonious Monk's sense of rhythm, you start to get a feel for what kind of jazz he'll go for. And you'd be right: nothing ever seems to please Larkin quite so much as old-school big band or dixieland, and he's not afraid to say so. Still, he's a good writer and all, so if you're looking for a collection of jazz reviews from the 60s written by a slightly stuffy guy who never really got over Woody Herman, this is the book for you.

The Greatest
Larkin was a great writer and an honest critic, and this is the best-written book of popular music criticism available.
The other reviews posted for this book on Amazon are wrong to imply that Larkin's tastes were timid or stuffy. In fact his heros were Henry Allen, Pee-Wee Russell, Bessie Smith, Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Jabbo Smith, Jack Teagarden and so on. These are among greatest musicians and innovators of jazz.
Yes, Larkin thought Charlie Parker was overrated; he couldn't stand Coltrane; he thought Miles Davis was a bore. But don't be afraid to read why he thought so and you may learn something about your own heros.

Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life
Published in Hardcover by Farrar Straus & Giroux (1993)
Author: Andrew Motion
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A disappointing biography
Andrew Motion's biography of Larkin, although well researched, is ultimately disappointing. Motion seems to have little sympathy for Larkin, and one wonders why he undertook this task. He does thoroughly cover the facts of Larkin's life -- his father, who admired Hitler even during the Second World War and his mother who seemed to have evoked only pity from her son. Indeed, according to Motion, Larkin claimed that his parents had such an unhappy marriage that he decided never to marry. It turns out, contrary to what one would believe from the poetry, that Larkin (at least in his later life) was fairly successful with women. However, he was careful not to commit himself too far. Although most people who knew Larkin liked him (such as Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest), this book will not tell you why. A more sympathetic sketch of Larkin can be found in Martin Amis's recent memoir. The book also falls short in its discussion of the poetry. That may be because Larkin's mature style was deceptively simple. While this make the poetry accessible to a wide audience, it robs the biographer of the opportunity to explicate obscure images or references. Anyone interested in Larkin is better off with the Collected Poems, and Required Writing, a book of essays.

A Girl in Winter
Published in Hardcover by MacMillan Publishing Company. (1985)
Authors: Philip Larkin and Paul Evan Lehman
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