Sentenced to Life by Clive James

Review published on December 23, 2016.

Clive James is known to many of us as the ex-pat Australian broadcaster and writer who came to Britain in 1962, studied at Pembroke College in Cambridge and quickly found his place in our affections as a witty commentator on the British way of life.

He is less well-known as a poet, although this slim volume has put him at the forefront of modern poetry.

Now 77 and suffering from blood cancer, James has looked death in the face, but thanks to experimental drug trials he has now stepped back from the brink.

These poems are unashamedly emotional and personal as he muses on himself and his illness and shows us all that it is possible to be at death’s door but still to see the absurdity of life and the hopefulness for the future we see in our grandchildren.

There are also beautiful descriptions of nature in ‘Japanese Maple’ and ‘Winter Plum’. The delights of the moon, the snow, the comforts of home and family can still be appreciated, although it is clear that the end of life is not far off.

I did find these poems extremely poignant and to read them one after the other is very depressing, but I urge readers to ration and savour them to fully appreciate the beautiful writing from a master wordsmith.

Dorothy Anderson 3/3

Sentenced to Life by Clive James
Picador 9781447284055 pbk Sep 2016


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