P.J. Kavanagh rss

Muddling through

2 June 2012
How England Made the English Harry Mount

Viking, pp.340, £20

It so happened that in 1961 I was part of a little group — three of us — which welcomed ‘Mr Jazzman’ to London. That was the code name for… Read more


A man after his time

30 June 2010
BB, A Symposium: A Life in Words Bryan Holden (editor)

Roseworld, pp.286, 30

Denys Watkins-Pitchford (1905-1990) illustrated dozens of books under his double-barrel and wrote at least 60 of his own under the two initials ‘BB’. Denys Watkins-Pitchford (1905-1990) illustrated dozens of books… Read more


Continuity under threat

6 January 2010
Unwrecked England Candida Lycett Green

Oldie Publications, pp.218, 25

This handsome and encouraging book is perhaps unfortunate in its title. The suggestion is that the author has been forced to rummage among the wreckage that is England in order… Read more

Spirit of place

23 September 2009
A Writer’s Britain: Landscape in Literature Margaret Drabble

Thames & Hudson, pp.288, 12.95

A Writer’s Britain: Landscape in Literature, by Margaret Drabble This is a book about the inner landscapes of writers, or the ones they inhabited when young, and how these informed… Read more

Nearly guiltless

1 July 2009
Ashes to Ashes Marcus Berkmann

Little, Brown, pp.313, 16.99

No one has ever successfully explained cricket-obsession, and Marcus Berkmann doesn’t even try. He just expresses it, stamping about like Basil Fawlty in exasperation at England’s nearly constant humiliation at… Read more

A balancing act

12 December 2008
English Catholic Heroes John Jolliffe (editor)

Gracewing, pp.242, 9.99

If anyone should wince at a hint of aggression in the title of this book — and some Catholics might — let him or her remember or read Charles Kingsley’s… Read more


Tough love

12 November 2008
A Prickly Affair Hugh Warwick

Allen Lane, pp.279, 14.99

A Prickly Affair, by Hugh Warwick At a time when most of his fellow-mystics deplored this sinful world and longed to leave it, 17th-century Thomas Traherne ecstatically celebrated the world… Read more

Nooks for rooks

6 August 2008
Crow Country Mark Cocker

Cape, pp.216, 8.99

Corvus: A Life with Birds Esther Woolfson

Granta, pp.322, 16.99

Was it Wordsworth who discovered the ‘real’ rural? Later, the Georgian poets celebrated its passing, giving rise to what Edward Thomas called ‘the Norfolk Jacket school of writing’. The poets… Read more

The pity of it

23 July 2008
In Zodiac Light Robert Edric

Doubleday, pp.368, 16.99

This book opens with a bang; things are suggested rather than described, in short paragraphs, mostly dialogue; the impression is of a (very English) Hemingway. A party of six inmates,… Read more

Llamas but no locals

7 May 2008
The Lost Village Richard Askwith

Ebury Press, pp.356, 18.99

Real England Paul Kingsnorth

Portobello Books, pp.312, 11.99

Richard Askwith is Associate Editor of the Independent and lives in a small Northamptonshire village; presumably he commutes. After a year’s absence abroad he returns to his village and finds… Read more

Fighting his corner

30 April 2008
Isaac Rosenberg: The Making of a Great War Poet Jean Moorcroft Wilson

Weidenfeld, pp.468, 25

This author said of her biography of the wealthy Siegfried Sassoon, ‘A study of his life is a study of an age’. So is this one, from another aspect, deep… Read more

Thinking like a river

26 March 2008
Downstream Tom Fort

Century, pp.310, 14.99

‘You can tell a river-lover. They cannot help but pause on a bridge to investigate what lies beneath.’ It is hard to imagine anyone not doing that, but our author… Read more

Hazy like foothills

5 March 2008
Last Poems James Michie

Oldie Publications, 9.99

As life-expectancy seems to grow longer by the minute, as it were — at least in our part of the globe — it was predictable that some writers would retain… Read more

‘Almost’ religious joy

7 November 2007
How To Be Wild Simon Barnes

Short Books, pp.281, 14.99

Simon Barnes is chief sportswriter for the Times; wearing his other boots he is a fervent eco-warrior, a spell-binding preacher, a missionary. His book is broken into small descriptive sections… Read more


All together now

17 October 2007
Once More With Feeling: A Book of Classic Hymns and Carols Rupert Christiansen

Short Books, pp.212, 12.99

In my English school our hymns were mostly in Latin which, despite years of instruction, rendered them sufficiently opaque to be appropriate. What few hymns we sang in English seemed… Read more

Fresh woods and pastors new

14 June 2007
C. Day-Lewis: A Life Peter Stanford

Continuum, pp.384, 20

It is good to be reminded of the left-wing writers of the 1930s who took arms against the injustices of a society in which they were themselves privileged members. Sometimes… Read more

Richness in diversity

16 May 2007
By Hook or By Crook: A Journey in Search of English David Crystal

HarperPress, pp.314, 16.99

I seem to have missed the name David Crystal. He is clearly a phonetician, expert in linguistics, but the blurb tells us little about him except that he appears on… Read more

Guilt and defiance

8 March 2007
That Neutral Island Clair Wills

Faber, pp.502, 25

It will be news to nobody that England (or ‘the Crown’) and Ireland had been in a state of mutual incomprehension since the time of the first Elizabeth. There had… Read more

John Bull as a master of delicacy

26 October 2006
Nature’s Engraver Jenny Uglow

Faber, pp.458, 20

This is a book that tells the reader a great deal about a certain kind of Englishman in his interesting times (1753-1828), and also raises the irritating question — the… Read more

Ode to the A202

13 September 2006
Collected Poems, 1952–2006 Alan Brownjohn

Enitharmon Press, pp.479, 25

A personal note, but relevant: I first picked up this large book at about two o’clock in the afternoon, and began to dip into it, a preliminary reconnaissance. I had… Read more

The murder of Bamber Gascoigne

25 May 2006
Strangerland: A Family at War Helena Drysdale

Picador, pp.396, 14.99

Listing page content here This book, about real people, was intended to be about quite different ones. In her postscript, Helena Drysdale, the travel writer, says that her initial purpose… Read more

Band of brothers

12 November 2005
Ashes Victory the England Cricket Team

Orion, pp.208, 12.99

Being Freddie Andrew Flintoff

Hodder, pp.315, 18.99

Calling the Shots Michael Vaughan

Hodder, pp.270, 18.99

In bad light, after some confusion, the bails were ceremonially removed by the umpires late in the evening of 12 September 2005, to signify that the game was ended, was… Read more

Mid-life midsummer madness

13 August 2005
Zimmer Men Marcus Berkmann

Little, Brown, pp.212, 16.99

Many things lead to addiction and obsessiveness, even madness, but one of the most surprising, and lasting, is cricket. You don’t even have to be any good (I know); it… Read more