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Lines Off by Hugo Williams review – fascinating reflections on body and mind

Inspired by a spell in hospital, Hugo Williams confronts the body in crisis with irresistible style

Hugo Williams’s “lines off” – a stage direction – were written during a period in which he had dialysis, followed by a kidney transplant. Hospitals are dramas in themselves – operating theatres appropriately named. In Transplant 2014, the surgeon is poised to give “the performance of a lifetime” (and let us not forget, Williams once worked as a theatre critic). But sickness and the surgeon’s knife do not necessarily make great poetry. What matters is Williams’s own writerly performance, his ability to rally while undergoing the trials of Job. It is the gallantry of his writing that moves. The raffish intelligence that makes all his poetry a pleasure to read does not desert him in extremis. There is – thank the NHS – never any sense of his being diminished on the page.

His old style cooperates with his new predicament even if hospital is not his preferred habitat. His gloom as he casts himself a has-been is offset by the doctor’s disbelief (in The Check-Up) that he has survived:

Readers – particularly older ones – will be tickled by his sense of the body as a docile soldier, continuing to oblige

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