John Kemp is a new student, reading english at Oxford university in the 1940’s. John Kemp is an awkward character, and arrives at university dismayed to find out he has to share his room with another boy. This boy is Christopher Warner. Christopher is the opposite of John, upper class, loud, enthusiastic and a carefree attitude towards studying. John is desperate to be accepted by Christopher and his friends, and when he senses a slight jealousy towards his close family ties, he ends up creating a younger sister named Jill. He becomes a little obsessed by this fantasy figure and begins creating letters from her, stories about her and even writing a diary by her. Then one day, in a little book shop, he meets a girl who is “jill”.
I particularly enjoyed this book. I found it very easy to jump into what was happening, and my interest in the plot and the characters held right though. The book is not broken up into chapters. Larkin states that this is because the book was intended to be an extended short story. I liked the lack of chapters, it kept me involved in what was going on, as there were no breaks in the story and it flowed like continuous prose.
I loved reading about university life, during the second world war, and at a time when higher education was mostly for men with very few women on campus. Due to the war, John’s experience of university is altered from normal and the war references (particularly the bombings around England) really add to the instability of his experiences.
Jill, and her creation was not as big in the plot as I expected her to be; I didn’t mind though. I felt that the creation of Jill was more about John projecting his insecurities and anxieties onto a fictional being. Therefore, it was vital to have a long lead up where you could really get to know John and understand what goes on in his head.
John Kemp and Christopher Warner are not just the opposite of each other in personality. They are the fictional resemblance of a class difference. John being working class, christopher being middle-upper class. The idea of hard work, dedication and achievement versus being handed down money is prominent. John Kemp has had to work extremely hard to be awarded his scholarship, and seems to be constantly striving for acceptance among people who have been fortunate enough to be provided the option of education from their families.
Overall, I though this was a great book, it was engaging, interesting and raised a lot of subtle themes. I definitely want to check out more of Larkin’s work, and I highly recommend this book.
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