Only one place left to visit if I was going to do a Complete Larkin and that was to read one of his two books published in the early days of his writing career, when the life of a novelist beckoned and before the poetry took over. A Girl in Winter published in 1946 proved to be a good choice,(all I have read suggests Jill may be a weaker novel) because the forthcoming poetic leanings are most certainly evident as Philip Larkin writes of war time work in a library and the life of one of the library assistants, French refugee Katherine Lind.
The novel moves between present day and flashback of Katherine's penfriend correspondence with an English schoolboy Robin, a relationship sustained by letters much as Larkin's own life would be. When, as a teenager, Katherine comes to England for a three week holiday at the invitation of Robin and his family, the old adage of visitors and three days and stinking fish proves itself apt. A subsequent wartime reunion, predicated on those memories for Katherine, proves that the fish haven't improved on keeping either. It's an interesting book given that for all his philandering (I want to invent Philipandering because it would work on many levels) I always sense, and obviously misguidedly, something of the closet mysogynist about Philip Larkin, yet here he is writing lucidly and openly about the stifling nature of women's lives and the limited ambitions and opportunities available to them and the controlling nature of the men in charge...Mr Anstey the head librarian is 'theatrical, scraggy and rude,' whilst his assistant Miss Feather is a 'pale ghost of his wishes.'
A thoroughly enjoyable read and it's clear this is a novel where Philip Larkin is experimenting with the language that will become his poetry.
So there you have it, Philip and I had a lovely evening at the Endsleigh Salon, he joined in owl-like through those specs, had a quick tut over the state of the hotel library shelves and has happily taken his place back on mine until the next bout of Larkinitis hits dovegreyreader.