02 April 2007

Notes From a Small Island

Bill Bryson's Notes From a Small Island was voted the best book about Britain by the British themselves in a poll in The Guardian or some such several years ago. It says so on the book jacket somewhere but it's all the way on the other side of the room and I don't want to get up.

Bryson lived in England for fifteen or twenty years (that's also on the book jacket), but this book was written in the weeks before he departed the country to return to the United States. He went across to the continent, then hopped a ferry and returned to England through Dover, just as he had first come to England year previously. He travelled across the country without benefit of a car, which is fairly interesting--partly because it colors the narrative and partly because no one in their right mind would try such a thing in the United States.

There's not a lot to say. It's a great book for the flavor of the English countryside, but lately I find Bryson is sometimes so sarcastic ("wry" in the language of dust-jacket copy writers) that I get the feeling he doesn't enjoy anything at all, really. This wasn't so noticeable in A Walk in the Woods but it was terrible in The Lost Continent. To my surprise this book is at times rather closer to Lost Continent than I'd have hoped.

Which is not to say it's bad. After all, it was as I said voted the best book about Britain by the British (according to that wry dust-jacket copy, or something; really, I should just get up and go get the book but I absolutely refuse to do so at this point), and if for no other reason it's clearly worth a read. It is funny and enjoyable, and Bryson's description of the three-hour film This is Cinerama that he saw in Bradford is enough to make me want to book a flight right now. Well, almost.


Ayzair said...

Sounds similar to my experience with "Neither Here Nor There." It was like he could only view Europe through stereotypes and refused to see anything that would contradict that. "Mother Tongue" and "Walk" are by far better.

Smitty said...

I agree. Mother Tongue and Walk in the Woods are fun and I'd recommend them to anyone. I haven't really enjoyed any of his others as much. I believe the writing smacks of snobbery, that may be the problem.

Nonetheless, of the four travel books I've reviewed this was the only one to get a comment. Likely as not this is the only one anyone else has read. So other people must find something in Bryson that I'm not seeing.