A former pupil’s book of poetry about his school years, The Examined Life, has been praised by literary critics and celebrities, and awarded the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize.

OC Poet and Novelist, James Harpur, wrote the whole collection as a reflection of his teenage years as a boarder at Cranleigh.

Published by Two Rivers Press, The Examined Life is a powerful, poignant and humorous account of school life during the 1970s.

Here among bell-tormented corridors and the ‘Crimean beds’ of the dormitories can be found a cast of school characters, customs and events, including a sex education lesson that backfires, a midnight fire drill, away matches in crumbly coaches, and legendary masters.·          

A quite marvellous work…an Odyssey, a Ulysses shaken up in the snow-dome of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.’ — From the foreword by STEPHEN FRY

Born and raised in Weybridge, James entered Cranleigh in 1970. He was following in the footsteps of his two brothers, the scholarly Patrick (West 1964-67), now an acclaimed writer, and John (West 1967-71) – the notorious ‘Monty’ Harpur, who was believed to be responsible for every misdemeanour committed at the school, from adding a third hand to the school clock to driving an exhibition army tank around the South Field.


James says about his book: ‘I wanted to balance the stresses of school routines and exams with the camaraderie and fun, such as witnessing a Master bopping at a girls’ school dance, or a scary night time jaunt to The Wheatsheaf on the back of my brother’s motorbike. I also wanted to capture the twilight years of the hippie era – when just beyond the black-and-white life of school there flowed a world of flowery shirts, pink loons, kaftans – and the long hair we were desperate to have!’

Rooted in the topography of the school and the landscape of south Surrey, James’s odyssey is one that every OC – and future OC – will relate to.

Harpur is one of the finest poets writing in Ireland and I have long been a fan of his poetry, distinctive for its lyric grace. It’s also possessed of a clarity of voice which is warm, enormously intelligent and often very funny – The Dublin Review of Books

James will read from The Examined Life at the school in September. The event is invitational but will be recorded and shared with our community.

Please click here to read the full review in the Dublin Review of Books and here to find a copy of The Examined Life.