Granta, £12.99, 145pp. £10.99 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Until Further Notice I Am Alive, By Tom Lubbock


This extraordinary, vast little book enacts Larkin's almost-instinct, almost true: what has remained of him is love. Tom Lubbock was art critic of this paper for many years until a brain cancer removed, inch by inch, his language and then he died, stupidly young.

He was a writer secondly. First, he looked, not at himself nor soliciting the admiration of the reader, but at the image he was writing about. The words were a necessary tool brilliantly wielded. It was a pure form of ekphrasis.

And then the words were taken away. Neurological disorders tend to be monstrously cruel like that. If he had been a watchmaker, you can bet his cancer would have taken away his hand-eye co-ordination; a musician, his ear. Evolution says that nature has finished with us once we've passed on our genes; human sentiment, that finding love is the highest good and, that being achieved, it's gently downhill.

Lubbock did both late, and nature's revenge followed swiftly. He married late, became a father late, and almost immediately life dealt him the short straw. We are all dealt it in the end. Nor is it really the timing; there's never a good time to be told your number's up.

What is extraordinary is Lubbock's response. "I always felt from the start that it would be wrong to complain... This going wrong is the way I have gone wrong. I will not deny it, abjure it." He and his wife Marion are in this together. Their intimate companionship, a mutual self-identification, brightened. He falls in love with his little son Eugene (a lucky fellow to have such a father, such a testament). Eugene's acquiring of language matches his father's losing of it.

Lubbock writes love letters to his family, adamantine in their resolve. Occasionally Jesus, his tribal god in whom he has no particular belief, seems to be putting in a shy appearance on the periphery. But, mainly and wonderfully, Lubbock considers himself a body, an operating-system, a manifestation as meticulous and non-transcendent as those he wrote about, on canvas or in the marble.

It's hard, impossible, to précis this magical book: magical not by its author's intent but by what it achieves. He addresses one of the most ancient of philosophical questions – how should a man die? – with emotional assurance, a precise and kindly brutality of judgment, rare in the current rash of death-confessional writing. This is a book in a different class. More; it is a different class of thing.

Most striking is the language. Samuel Beckett spent his life trying to reach the limits of language, beginning by abjuring English and writing in French. By the end of the second book in his monumental trilogy, Malone Dies, he is getting there. Malone out on the lake in the dark with the murderous asylum-warden Lemuel falls asleep, or dies, along with his language in its fits and starts and noddings-off:

...I mean never he will never
or with his pencil or with his stick or
or light light I mean
never there he will never
never anything
any more

The modifiers go, the verbs simplify, only the nouns remain, the things that do the real work in our lives. And it's the same for Lubbock, under a greater force majeure than literary investigation. He writes of his wife and son:

Marion and her embrace.
Ground, river and sea.
Eugene – his toys, his farm,
his fishing game.

Getting quiet.

And then:

The final thing. The illiterate. The dumb.
Quiet but still something?

My body. My tree.

After that it becomes simply the world.

There's nothing to be said about this. Except perhaps that once language is stripped away we are left with poetry. His wife writes that the last words "were understood, spoken aloud and pulled together through question and answer, repetition, verbal challenges, inspired guesswork and frustration... Very early on, Tom wrote: 'The shape of the creature is the pressure of life against the limit of death'. We were right against the limit for a very long time, and we knew what we were doing and we kept on doing it, During that long time something was made and here it is." We should be grateful. I hope I remember this book when it's my turn to die. There's little more to be said.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before