Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me
‘A brilliant biography – John Sutherland has brought Monica Jones to life as she deserves.’ Claire Tomalin
‘Eye-opening… in this account [Monica Jones] comes alive.’ The Sunday Times
Monica Jones was Philip Larkin’s partner for more than four decades, and was arguably the most important woman in his life. She was cruelly immortalised as Margaret Peel in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim and widely vilified for destroying Larkin’s diaries and works in progress after his death. She was opinionated and outspoken, widely disliked by his friends and Philip himself was routinely unfaithful to her. But Monica Jones was also a brilliant academic and an inspiring teacher in her own right. She wrote more than 2,000 letters to Larkin, and he in turn poured out his heart to her.
In this revealing biography John Sutherland explores the question: who was the real Monica? The calm and collected friend and teacher? The witty conversationalist and inspirational lecturer? Or the private Monica, writing desperate, sometimes furious, occasionally libellous, drunken letters to the only man, to the absent man, whom she could love? Was Monica’s life – one of total sacrifice to a great poet – worthwhile? Through his careful reading of Monica’s never-before-seen letters, and his own recollections, John Sutherland shows us a new side to Larkin’s story, and allows Monica to finally step out from behind the poet’s shadow.
One of the most brilliant biographies I have read - an extraordinary achievement - brings Monica to life as she deserves, and not only for what she did for Larkin and his work, but also her teaching skills. It makes me wish I could have heard her lecture. * Claire Tomalin * I couldn't put it down. Vivid and penetrating, it's a brilliant portrait of a confounding, complex woman which will be indispensable to anyone interested in Philip Larkin. The fact that John Sutherland knew Monica Jones enables him to bring not only his scholarship but his uniquely wry observation to his subject. It's a tremendous book. * Cressida Connolly * If you buy only one biography this year, make it this one. What makes this biography so special is that it not only gets to the beating heart of Monica Jones, but it uncovers the true ruthlessness of Philip Larkin. Beautifully crafted, beautifully written, it is a joy to read. * Anne Robinson * Eye-opening... in this account [Monica Jones] comes alive. * The Sunday Times * Who would have thought that the life of Monica Jones, an unpublished and under-promoted lecturer in the English department at University College, Leicester, would prove to be such a page-turner? We all knew that she was Philip Larkin's long-term lover, and we thought we knew that she was reactionary, racist, homophobic, awkward, hysterical and dowdy. How wrong we were, how wrong. John Sutherland has set up a counter-narrative that keeps us guessing, as he himself has been kept guessing by this strange woman whom in some ways he knew so well, and in other ways, as he speculates, not at all. This memoir is his tribute to Miss Jones, and he shows her to us in her powerful prime. It is a story as full of surprises as many a novel, and a story that only he could tell -- Margaret Drabble * NEW STATESMAN * Reading this book, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Larkin slowly destroyed Jones's life... Sutherland has written a bleak but convincing book... But Philip Larkin, Monica Jones and Me is also an essay in the banality of despair. Sutherland shows how a life can be ruined amid quite ordinary things like The Archers and cricket matches and outings to cathedral cities and English summer days. Ironically, this was something Larkin understood better and wrote about more feelingly than any English poet who has yet lived -- James Marriott * THE TIMES * [Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me] has a compelling flow of strong feeling and a touching sense of intimate connection . . . But Sutherland and Jones were never intimate or confiding - which means that the darkest revelations of her correspondence seem all the more shocking, to him first, and now to us . . . Larkin had managed to live pretty much how he wanted all along. Sutherland's book adds substance to the story of these wants, and some detail to the prejudices that accompanied them, and in this and other respects it's valuable -- Andrew Motion * THE SPECTATOR * [Sutherland's] book pays generous tribute to the woman who kick-started his prolific academic career. As the first scholar to see Jones's letters to Larkin (all 54 boxes of them in the Bodleian Library), he has also learned things about her he didn't know, some of them hard to take . . . It wasn't just Larkin's poetry Jones nurtured but his bigotry too. The relationship was sad and sometimes toxic, as Sutherland's excellent biography shows . . . In thrall to his genius, her love for Larkin endured - and so did the misery that went with it -- Blake Morrison * THE GUARDIAN * There are difficult women and then there is Jones: a racist, an antisemite, an emotional masochist, an alcoholic. It's not the job of a biographer to make his subject likable . . . Even if you understand what she was up against - the misogyny, the internalised sexism, the booze - she's no phoenix, about to rise from the ashes . . . If the desolate story it tells - about two people, not one - is extreme, it's also universal. How little we understand our desires. How we struggle to make ourselves happy. How easily we get stuck. Here is a warning, if only people would take it, that sententiousness, in matters of the heart, is always a mistake. What will survive of us isn't love, but the struggle for survival itself -- Rachel Cooke * THE OBSERVER * John Sutherland's memoir-cum-biography hinges on a profound question: how well do we truly know a person? . . . It is partly a biography of Jones's life - her upbringing, her time at Oxford, her move to Leicester, and her relationship with Larkin . . . Other parts of the book are written with the intimacy of an insider - Sutherland, Boswell-like, portrays her in all her convivial wit and striking personality . . . often moving, with some wonderfully-expressed insights -- Tomiwa Owolade * EVENING STANDARD * There are only two books that I have picked up through choice to read, one was Jane Fallon's book and the other is ... Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me: Her Life and Long Loves. I am a massive Philip Larkin fan ... and this book has had the most amazing reviews ... The biography is such a great read ... this is the one book that's going to encourage me to get back to my reading ... This is the book that myself and many of my friends couldn't wait to get our hands on. -- Jo Good * BBC RADIO LONDON * Part biography and part memoir, this book rescues Jones from being just a poet's plus one. Beautifully written, you can almost taste the beery, tweedy, smoke-filled atmosphere of university life in the 1950s and 1960s. It's a gripping love story too -- Roger Alton * DAILY MAIL * In John Sutherland's book, Monica Jones emerges as a woman at once wonderful and complicated. This is her life, not as accessory or afterthought, but as a full person, interesting in her own right and on her own terms. A warm and generous book which is a vital addition to the realm of Larkin biography. * Jessie Greengrass *
Book experts at your service
What are you looking for?