According to the foreword on this book, I am the target audience. I like (not love) poetry and I am only familiar with W.H. Auden in a superficial way. I am a self proclaimed fan of all things Alexander McCall Smith, but unfortunately, his own love of Auden’s work does not translate well. It is the classic non fiction mistake. When the author is too close to his subject, it makes it challenging to remain unbiased and write something with a wide appeal for all. I am certain from reading the book that Auden means and meant a great deal to Smith, it just doesn’t work well as an entire book. Perhaps an essay would have been more appropriate.
W.H. Auden is considered one of the great writers of the 20th century. His poems are considered political, nuanced, and have great emotional impact for fans. Though born in the UK, he later became a US citizen. Though his life wasn’t without a fair amount of scandal and literary criticism, his legacy is that of an influential poet, if not the political dynamo that others expected him to be. Smith writes about various facets of Auden’s life, includes portions of poems and the history of some of those poems, as well as Smith’s own interpretation or explanation of how certain lines affected him. Though some of these meanderings are interesting, they do not a book make.
This book was disappointing, and I imagine only huge W.H. Auden’s fans will truly appreciate this addition to the myriad of books that have already been written on the subject. I feel Smith’s appreciation of Auden’s writings is better left to his fiction books as it has been in the past.