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This review is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

STRONG POISONS & HADDOCKS' EYES Brendan Kennelly, The Book of Judas (Bloodaxe Books) £25, £8.95 pb
Michael Palmer, Sun (North Point Press, San Francisco) £6.30
Sean O'Brien, HMS Glasshouse (Oxford University Press) £5.99

The Book of Judas is a monstrous book, monstrous in size (365 pages of poems, and 400 pages in all, including the Preface, the index, and the advertisements - of which more later - at the end for other of Kennelly's books), and monstrous in content. It is not a book that should be read in times that are personally difficult, for it is deeply shocking and deeply depressing. It is also, in small doses, extremely funny, but it makes its main effect by sheer accumulation, the indefatigable Judas voice worrying spitefully, sneeringly, accusingly, self-pityingly, self-justifyingly on and on, and one ends the book (having laid it aside on occasion because it is so unbearable) in a spirit of flat exhaustion, a mood in which the world, too, seems to have been reduced to a place of flat exhaustion, ticking dully over out of mere vindictiveness, a place that it would be an over-dramatization to call Hell. Because the main effect is made by accumulation, the book could have been rather shorter, or. very much longer, it would have made no difference, and there is small point in saying that some of these mostly short poems are less successful and more slapdash than others, or that certain sections (notably section 6) make a weaker impression than others. Still, there is no harm in pointing to a literary precursor: the two extraordinary speeches of Satan to Christ in Book I of Paradise Regained, coiling, hate-filled, self-damning, self-loathing, playing with sick ...


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