The Perfect Stranger – May Books we Love


Is there anything more wonderful (/ more awful) than young love? It’s something that most of us have or will experience in one way or another, and it’s the kind of thing that can deeply shape one’s life and personality. Thankfully, for me, young love always erred on the side of beauty and excitement, and indeed led me to move 4,000 miles away from my home, immigrate and marry the person I fell for at age 19. Ay mi, how romantic!

People are well used to and, quite frankly, probably quite sick of hearing average straight females like myself wax on about the merits of love and romance. Love is undoubtedly one of our (ladies’) big ‘things’, which we are taught to desire and discuss at every possible opportunity. So where are the men’s points of view on the subject? I promise, they do exist!

One of the most famous and best-loved is P.J. Kavanagh’s The Perfect Stranger. First published in 1966, Kavanagh’s memoir has gained somewhat of a cult following. Kavanagh – who sadly passed away in August 2015 – was primarily a poet, but also a writer, actor, broadcaster and columnist. In this memoir he moves from the austere conditions of 1940s boarding school to the tomfoolery of the Redcoats at Butlins; from colourful sojourns across Europe to life as a serving soldier in Korea. But the driving force behind this story is Kavanagh’s intense, tragic relationship with a girl called Sally Lehmann.

Kavanagh’s poetic chops come to the forefront in describing their relationship; indeed it is one of the most beautiful stories of young love I have ever read. He writes:

Every experience however simple has its maximum brilliance… so startlingly different from anything else than itself that it seems to contain indications of a strength and joy far beyond it, a hint that we live only on the edges of a possibility.

Be still my heart. It is, for me, simply an added bonus that this gorgeous tale of emotion and infatuation is coupled with exciting anecdotes of travel and youth in another era. It sounds perhaps fraught with sentimentality, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Kavanagh captures the intoxicating, obsessive and almost otherworldly nature of love with brutal honesty. It’s a truly masculine depiction of how a man is capable of giving himself entirely to someone else.

Don’t take my word for it. The Perfect Stranger was hailed by critics on publication in 1966 as an instant classic which utterly re-invented the memoir genre. Fans include Michael Frayn, author of Headlong and Spies, who calls it “A fine memorial to love and youth.” David Nicholls, who wrote One Day and Us, says “The writing remains vivid and detailed, full of concise pen portraits … it’s hard to think of a memoir by a male author that describes the experience [of love] with as much honesty, passion and precision.” Finally Richard Ingrams, co-founder of Private Eye and founding editor of The Oldie, calls it “One of the best memoirs I have read … humorous and poetic.”

One of those literary memoirs that is “of its kind”, The Perfect Stranger is truly not to be missed. We are excited to have the trade paperback edition of The Perfect Stranger, which is out this month from September Publishing. I guarantee it will change your perspective on youth, life and love… for the better!

The Perfect Stranger p/b is published 12 May by September Publishing

Also available from Turnaround:
The Perfect Stranger
h/b   9781910463017 £14.99 May 2015

Read about our other May Books we Love: Part 1

Post by Sarah

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