Monday 3 June 2019
Review by Jon Wilkins of "Afterlives" by Philip Tew
Isn’t literature a wonderful thing?
In April this year, I saw a post on the University of Leicester Creative Writing Facebook page from former student Phil Tew advertising the fact that he had just published a novel.
Phil Tew. Was that the Phil Tew I taught with in 1978 in our first teaching jobs? I messaged him, it was, friendship renewed.
When teaching, Phil always spoke about writing his novel and it was always clear he had the talent to do so. Afterlives is the proof of this: a novel about writing a novel.
That's what it is on the surface, but it is so much more. Part memoir, part road trip, part fiction, it tells of how Jim Dent plans to write about his dead friends and highlights his friendships with well-known Leicester authors, Sue Townsend, Graham Joyce and Chris Challis. We read of the collapse of a marriage, the fears for a life in academia and the pressures that brings, so relevant today in the factionalised market economy of UK Higher Education. We see the effects of Margaret Thatcher on society and how we are now tragically picking up the pieces of those days and their effects on the vulnerable.
There are nods to Ginsberg, Basil Bunting and Steve Knapper as Tew writes about who he knew and what he experienced. The mix of fact and fiction is mesmerising as Tew writes in a flow of consciousness, all against a searing backcloth of the world as it was and the world as it is now. I loved this as it is of my time and I recognised so much of Leicester in those halcyon days of student life and first jobs.
Afterlives is a poignant description of a life passed. Was it a life wasted or is there more to come? We have to make our own judgement on that score. But this is a relevant, evocative portrait of a Leicester past and a London present.
About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is sixty-three. He has a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons, and loves to write. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstones’ bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for twenty years and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years. He has always loved books and reading.