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Larkinland by Jonathan Tulloch review – metafictional novel set in the poet’s world

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Who is the real subject? Phiip Larkin, or the awkard librarian who occupies Mr Bleaney’s old room?

This unusual novel is a metafictional tale set in the world of Philip Larkin’s poems, which takes its lead from that masterpiece of provincial unease “Mr Bleaney”. Awkward librarian Arthur Merryweather arrives in 1950s Hull to take up a job at the university, only to find himself occupying Mr Bleaney’s old boarding-house room, stubbing out his fags on the saucer-souvenir ashtray as he falls for beautiful Niamh. From the poem’s elements, Tulloch concocts a likable if daft knockabout involving an amorous landlady, a case of mistaken identity and an insurance scam devised by the mysterious Bleaney. But producing a compelling plot from references is a tricky job, and Tulloch doesn’t quite manage it, as the book devolves into a perfunctory tour of Larkin’s greatest hits. (“Come to Sunny Prestatyn. If only he fucking had.”) Tulloch gives us the sweary misanthrope of the letters rather than the more sage presence of the poems, but it’s never clear whether his real subject is Larkin or the hapless Merryweather. Any Bleaneyesque soul-searching is sacrificed for the gags.

Larkinland is published by Seren. To order a copy for £8.49 (RRP £9.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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