This book won prizes back in 2011 and received plenty of critical acclaim in the UK. It is very readable and it is fairly interesting. The sections on poetry are particularly worth reading. However, as a biography of a poet it does seem to suffer from some significant limitations.
Firstly, the decision to downplay the importance of the bulk of the poet’s early life is problematic. Secondly, the balance of the research is tilted towards literary gossip instead of history. Thirdly, the way in which women are depicted is unfortunate. Fourthly, there is little evidence that the author has reflected on the difficulty of biography from a philosophical perspective.
Nonetheless, the book should not be dismissed out of hand. It includes some beautiful poems from a ‘war poet’ who does not always receive his due. Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon often get much more attention than Thomas. In addition, Hollis provides a lot of revealing detail about the difficulties inherent in scratching a living by the pen. Furthermore, Hollis delivers some fascinating commentary on the poems of Thomas and Robert Frost. Frost emerges as a major character in the book, and the reader learns to appreciate some of the thinking behind the art of this significant poet. It is illuminating to read about the difficulties involved in achieving relative simplicity through combining sound, rhythm, and sense.