The story of Philip Larkin's long-term partner Monica Jones based on her never-before-seen letters to the poet.
'A brilliant biography - John Sutherland has brought Monica Jones to life as she deserves.' Claire Tomalin
'I couldn't put it down. Vivid and penetrating, it's a brilliant portrait of a confounding, complex woman.' Cressida Connolly
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.
A brilliant biography - John Sutherland has brought Monica Jones to life as she deserves. - 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
Eye-opening... in this account [Monica Jones] comes alive. - The Times
Eye-opening... in this account [Monica Jones] comes alive. - The Sunday Times
A page-turner... a story as full of surprises as many a novel... it is a tribute to a real woman, who lived a real life. - New Statesman
[Monica Jones, Philip Larking and Me] has a compelling flow of strong feeling and a touching sense of intimate connection...despite a lifetime of complaining, 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. - The Spectator
As the first scholar to see Jones's letters to Larkin (all 54 boxes of them in the Bodleian Library), he [John] 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 - The Guardian
If the desolate story [Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me] 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. - Observer
John Sutherland is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology. He has published 20 books, edited 30 more and written many articles on a variety of publications. His most recent books are The Boy Who Loved Books: A Memoir (2007) and How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide (2006). He also writes a weekly column for the Guardian, and is a former Chairman of the Booker Prize.