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The Examined Life by James Harpur

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James Harpur entered a boy’s boarding school in the 1970s and survived to tell the tale. This sequence of poems is a searingly honest and compelling account of his five-year journey, from leaving home for the first time and sleeping in a dormitory in which enemies appear like shadows, to his sadness at his parents’ separation and the death of a father figure from a bomb. For as well as Prog Rock, flared trousers and industrial strikes, this was the era of the Troubles.

An introvert in an extraverted world, Harpur took refuge in Homer and the magical world of Troy, and found that school could be a haven, and even fun: a sex education lesson that backfired; a rare sighting of girls at a dance; a scary ride on his brother’s illegal motorbike; a surreal trip to Covent Garden. Powerful, poignant and humorous, The Examined Life re-creates a ‘vale of soul-making’ that, with its tragedy and comedy, heroes and villains, is like a microcosm of life itself.

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