The Perfect Stranger by P J Kavanagh

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The Perfect Stranger by P J Kavanagh

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lisa Munson
Reviewed by Lisa Munson
Summary: I was delighted to have the opportunity to read this book, one that I may not have had otherwise come across if it wasn't for Bookbag. Kavanagh had such an interesting and varied life, it was a joy to follow his easy prose and have my mind opened up to a world I didn't know existed. From his early years with his family, to Butlins, the Korean war and his world with the love of his life. I couldn't put it down.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: May 2016
Publisher: September Publishing
ISBN: 978-1910463291

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The Perfect Stranger was originally published in 1966: this edition 50 years on hasn't lost any of its charm or appeal. Intended as a memorial, '...made out of bits and pieces lying around me, bits of myself, all I had to bring her. Or rather it's part of it'. In the foreward added to the 1991 edition Kavanagh is appalled that his book should have been so widely categorised as an autobiography and states that if he had known that would happen he would have stopped writing at once. To me this attitude is an early indication to the personality and character of Kavanagh. His journey highlights how disaffected, withdrawn, and isolated he is from the world around him, with an arrogance and cynicism that goes beyond the petulance of his teenage years.

Do not be fooled by the sub title 'A Memoir of Love and Survival' , although it does draw us into a passionate, deep and emotional relationship that Kavanagh has with his first wife, Sarah Phillips (Sally), we don't meet her until page 132 of a 212 page book. What is most important is getting to know him in such a way that when he does fall madly, deeply and intensely in love we understand clearly the depth of this relationship and what it means to him.

Kavanagh has kept to his word bringing us this story from the bits and pieces lying around him, it highlights the most significant and interesting parts of his life without the need for padding with the other bits in between. Starting with an overview of the beginning of his life where we meet his parents and are offered an insight into where it is he has come from in order to understand where it is he goes on this journey.

Kavanagh was perfectly happy at home, the centre of his Mother's universe, until he was sent away to boarding school where he was very unhappy. It was here that he developed 'a paranoid attitude to authority'. Concerned about Kavanagh, possibly to counteract a snobbism he saw emerging, his father sent him to work as a red coat at Butlins Holiday Camp. As you can imagine we are entertained with a variety of experiences he had during his time as a holiday 'Uncle'. It is the first of many events that we begin to see how Kavanagh does not particularly excel at much he does or goes on to do. He does, however, pluck up the courage to phone his Father and inform him that he has no intention of going back to boarding school. His Father puts up little resistance, but decides to send him to school in Switzerland for his last year.

Kavanagh's writing is very accessible, his memoir is timeless, the journey is powerful. As he says in the foreward he allows us a glimpse at the healing laughter below the surface, from Butlins to Switzerland, the Korean War to love in the most unusual of places. He makes us laugh, and cry, with such simple but poetic prose. He describes characters by the way they made him feel rather than their physical characteristics; this works well, I could see them clearly thanks to the way Kavanagh so early on shares his inner most thoughts of himself and the people in his world.

If you love memoirs, especially ones about great literary artists of our time then, My Father's Places: A portrait of childhood by Dylan Thomas' daughter by Aeronwy Thomas, is a highly recommended good read.

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Buy The Perfect Stranger by P J Kavanagh at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Perfect Stranger by P J Kavanagh at


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