Sentenced to Life

Clive James

4.1 based on 314 ratings & 61 reviews on
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09 April 2015
80 pages

In his insightful collection of poems Clive James looks back over an extraordinarily rich life with a clear-eyed and unflinching honesty. There are regrets, but no trace of self-pity in these verses, which - for all their open dealings with death and illness - are primarily a celebration of what is treasurable and memorable in our time here.

Again and again, James reminds us that he is not only a poet of effortless wit and lyric accomplishment: he is also an immensely wise one, who delights in using poetic form to bring a razor-sharp focus to his thought. Miraculously, these poems see James writing with his insight and energy not only undiminished but positively charged by his situation: Sentenced to Life represents a career high point from one of the greatest literary intelligences of the age.

James was diagnosed with emphysema and kidney failure in early 2010 and almost all of the poems [in Sentenced to Life] deal with his illness ("Dying by inches") and his facing up to the end of life. I read an advance copy recently and was moved, perhaps changed, by the experience. It's one thing to encounter such a poem now and then in a literary journal but to read 37 of them in one sitting is overwhelming . . . This is a sad book, depressing even, but it is full of insight and wisdom.

Stephen Romei - The Australian

A writer whose commanding voice contains a constant variety of colour and tone

Robert McCrum - Observer

Suffused with loss and guilt . . . although his impending death is ever-present in the verse, his humour still shines through . . . [James is] embarrassed at having lived with his death so long: "High time to go," he says - how many last words, deathbed aphorisms and funeral songs can his public take? Quite a few is the answer, when they resonate as these poems do at their best. Keep at it, Clive. May you go on being embarrassed for some time

Blake Morrison - Guardian