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This review is taken from PN Review 159, Volume 31 Number 1, September - October 2004.

A HOUSE OF SORTS P.J. KAVANAGH, A Kind of Journal 1987-2002 (Carcanet) £14.95

A kind of journal is what P.J. Kavanagh has been keeping for a lifetime. `Why, when it is impossible to belong / Do all of us long for that more than anything ?' he asks, in an early poem, `Djakarta'. This latest collection of experiences recalled or gathered on the wing, which first appeared in the Spectator and the Times Literary Supplement, continues to build up the picture of a surprising and surprised life - a life whose early landmarks, an ambivalent sense of his Irish ancestry, a rackety wartime childhood as the son of Itma's scriptwriter, Ted Kavanagh, his unlikely survival of the Korean war, and the death of his first wife are wonderfully caught in his young man's memoir, The Perfect Stranger (Quartet Books, 1973). `Belonging' is not a simple affair with such a background, and the present journal, the natural successor to his People and Places 1975-1987 (Carcanet, 1988), continues to put a house of sorts together which he can inhabit and we can drop in on. How diverse Kavanagh's worlds are can be seen by sampling the index, which is almost as enticing as the indices to Pliny's Natural History or Southey's Omniana. If the following signposts do not point to spots well worth the visiting, read no further: `Grass, nature of wetness of': `Ashbery, John, sleep-inducing difficulty of': `Newts, Gussie Finknottle champion of'. Much virtue in your `of'. And, as a devotee of the thinginess of the world, Kavanagh ranges from greenfinches to surnames, ...


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