The Grouch From Hull

TITLE: PHILIP LARKIN: A WRITER'S LIFE

AUTHOR: ANDREW MOTION

PUBLISHER: FARRAR STRAUS GIROUX; 570 PAGES; $35

THE BOTTOM LINE: The biography of England's unofficial laureate of gloom makes surprisingly lively reading.

IN 1974 TWO LEADING BRITISH POETS appeared together on a platform at Hull University. One was Ted Hughes, the widower of Sylvia Plath: intense, leather- jacketed, trailing a romantic aura. The other was Philip Larkin, an overweight, bald, bespectacled and partly deaf figure in a dark suit who later described himself as providing the "sophisticated, insincere, effete, and gold-watch-chained alternative."

Larkin made a life's work of offering the unfashionable alternative...

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