Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life
Fourth Estate, $49.99 hb, 662 pp, 9780732299705
I can readily see that I am not the intended reader for The Unauthorised Life of Ted Hughes. Born in the year his first book of poems came out (The Hawk in the Rain, 1957); made to read Hughes at school (I preferred Sylvia Plath); a graduate of the same university (Cambridge); my books published by the same publisher (Faber), and sharing (if at all) the same bookstore shelves (between Heaney and Hughes, not necessarily a fate I'd wish on anyone); the co-editor with my friend James Lasdun of a book (After Ovid: New Metamorphoses, 1994) that restored Hughes to public confidence, admiration, and good odour, and paved the way for his own Tales from Ovid (1997) and, I believe, also Birthday Letters the following year; a minor attendee at his commemorative service in Westminster Abbey in 1999; a reader of Elaine Feinstein's earlier biography (2001), and a reviewer of the Collected Poems (2003), I can see my life and work as having been spent pretty exactly – almost studiedly – in his shadow. But if not me, then who? And even if its perceived or intended readership, determined as much or more by the publisher and agent as by the author, are people who need to be told what Roget's Thesaurus is, so that they don't misunderstand Plath's wicked early self-characterisation as a 'Roget's trollop' – shouldn't it have something for me as well?