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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Trouble at Willow Gables
Trouble at Willow Gables

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)


MARK LAWSON:
This is a pretty odd one. Why did Philip Larkin want to do spanking at Mallory Towers?

CRAIG BROWN:
First of all, I think you could throw away half the book and not publish it. He realised he couldn't write novels. They were dead in water. They're awful, like parody bad novels. No excuse for publishing them. The other half, more interesting for people, for anyone, these schoolgirls' novels which have been billed as lesbian, but they are not. But they're kind of jolly school girl romps, the kind that Arthur Marshall used to write about. They're beautifully done. When he writes it himself, he can't do it. He explains it as a novelist has to be interested in people. He wasn't sufficiently interested in people. But when he's writing in this genre fiction, it comes alive. I had an enjoyable Saturday morning reading that. It made me feel happy, cosy world, pleasant, intricate plot. It worked.

LAWSON:
Do you think he was writing the book for sexual or literary reasons, in as much as you can separate those?

GERMAIN GREER:
I'm not sure why he was writing at all. I think he can probably manage the schoolgirls because he doesn't really see them as people. He was looking at them as if they were on a slab in a butcher's window. Described in terms of their slimness, firmness, lips are coral and so on. The extraordinary thing is if you have any understanding of girls' schools, they are emotional hot houses, like walking into a fire storm going in amongst adolescent girls, as any young male teacher will tell you. It's not very funny.

BROWN:
You're treating it as if it is realistic feeling.

GREER:
No, I'm not. It belongs in the genre of girls' own fiction, which I grew up on, except that it doesn't understand, well, he thinks it is more knowing than it is. We talked about novels called Dimsy Pulls it Off. He's relating to that genre in a peculiar way.

LAWSON:
The books you read were not written by librarians from Hull.

GREER:
I think that is the point about Larkin. He is a librarian. It is important to remember that.

TOM PAULIN:
It is fascinating. I didn't read it for the narrative. There is a wonderful, soapy quality. He's discovering his imagination. He writes the most beautiful prose. He's taken his imagination out to lunch. It is all very, very controlled. It reminded me, oddly enough, of De Quincy. It is the wonderful surfaces that you get. Both writers, it is like some sort of '40s American film, wearing silk pyjamas and smoking Turkish cigarettes. Creative indolence One or two dark moments of prejudice, but I've been that way with Larkin before. We all know it exists. But this is the beginning of wonderful poems. Occasionally, you see moments that will become a poem later down the line. But the extraordinary self-sufficiency of this imagination, to write English prose like this at the age of 21 is an extraordinary achievement.

LAWSON:
Larkin was famously an atheist, you would hope for his sake he's right. He threw away what he wrote and after his death this short shelf has been expanded. It's not right is it?

BROWN:
Also these dud novels at the end. You finish one scene and then you have another draft of it.

PAULIN:
They are very interesting. The reactionary father is there.

CRAIG BROWN:
He was embarrassed by it.

PAULIN:
I think it is fascinating.

LAWSON:
Do you think we need all that stuff that he clearly wouldn't have published?

PAULIN:
This is a very young and ambitious writer, going on to write two very fine novels.

BROWN:
He had written those novels before the two dud novels.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Panel
18 Apr 02 | Panel
26 Apr 02 | Panel
26 Apr 02 | Panel
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