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REALJimBob

Fortysomething, photographer slacker, working in IT, living in Greenwich; failed polymath; drinks and eats too much, reads too little...

Jill - Philip Larkin While he's much better known as a poet, it seems that Philip Larkin wrote a couple of novels as well. Jill tells the story of a young man, John Kemp, away from home for the first time, going up to Oxford to study English literature.

Published a few years after Larkin left Oxford, there appear to be many parallels with his own life: a less privileged background, from the north of England, studied English at Oxford - apparently wrote more than he studied - during the war and would have been at risk of having his home bombed. The novel could almost start to sound auto-biographical, though I suspect it's much more a case of 'writing what you know' and therefore pulling details from the author's life to populate the story.

Kemp ends up rooming with a confident public-school chap, Christopher Warner, and is immediately over-awed by his arrogant confidence. As part of a misguided attempt to impress him, John creates a fictional life for his sister, Jill, by writing himself detailed letters. Eventually he meets a girl who he thinks is everything this Jill should be and he develops something of an fixation on her.

While Larkin himself wasn't overly flattering of his first novel in the (excellent) introduction - asking us to be indulgent of his "juvenillia" - it is a great read. Larkin's ease with language is strongly evident, and while the subject matter is a simple story, the book is well paced and never feels slow.