This is in many ways an excellent biography: compulsively readable, elegantly assembled (future biographers should study Mr. Bate’s method of proceeding thematically rather than strictly chronologically), and sensitive to the many aspects of Hughes’s grand and complicated character. But your final judgment will partly depend on whether you feel that Mr. Bate or the Plath/Hughes myth is master of ceremonies.
...Bate — a distinguished Shakespeare scholar as well as provost of Worcester College in Oxford, England — proudly calls his book 'unauthorized,' implying its intellectual independence. But that word can’t help but suggest those sleazy tell-alls about Hollywood movie stars. In fact, this biography reads like two books: one an intelligent, even donnish work of criticism that connects the poems to the life, the other a sensationalistic anthology of gossip and subdued malice.
If anything is our own business, it is our pathetic native self. Biographers, in their pride, think otherwise. Readers, in their curiosity, encourage them in their impertinence. Surely Hughes’s family, if not his shade, deserve better than Bate’s squalid findings about Hughes’s sex life and priggish theories about his psychology.