The Middlebrow Men: Clive James on Philip Larkin

Simon Petch in the Sydney Review of Books:

This, Clive James’s final book, is a collection of his writings on Larkin and his work. James takes his title from the final words of Larkin’s ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ (1959). The ninety four pages, which include copies of one manuscript letter and two typed letters from Larkin to James, don’t offer very much book for your money, but you do get Clive James, who’s always good value. His explanation of why Jack Nicholson is the only Hollywood actor appropriate to play Larkin onscreen justifies the price of admission.

The book consists of eleven reviews and two poems, all published between 1974 and 2018. There’s an introduction, dated 2019, and an undated coda. As a collection of occasional pieces, all of them short, this is anything but a sustained consideration of Larkin’s writing. It’s a bits-and-pieces book, and its critical reflections are hit-and-miss. The misses are few, the parade of hits is good, and James writes as well on Larkin’s prose as on his poetry. The best essay in the book (which is also the longest), ‘On Larkin’s Wit’, is reprinted from Anthony Thwaite’s 1982 collection Larkin at Sixty. Here, James maintains that the jazz reviews that Larkin wrote for the Daily Telegraph, collected in 1970 as All What Jazz, constitute ‘one of the great books of creative criticism in our language’. An extravagant claim, perhaps, but this essay remains a significant revaluation of what Larkin called ‘the one book of mine that no one ever bothers about’.

More here.