Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review - Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson 

After travelling ....
Bill Bryson is an author I have always been aware of and curious about. As a teenager working in WH Smiths his name was plastered everywhere. The books were described as “funny and endearing.” I always thought it would be a great way to pique my interest about other countries and cultures that I may never experience. So finally, I decided to purchase one of his books and what did I choose to read about? Well my own country of course!!
The Blurb:
After nearly two decades in Britain, Bill Bryson took the decision to move back to the States for a few years, to let his kids experience life in another country, to give his wife the chance to shop until 10 p.m. seven nights a week, and, most of all, because he had read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, and it was thus clear to him that his people needed him.

But before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire, Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home. His aim was to take stock of the nation's public face and private parts (as it were), and to analyse what precisely it was he loved so much about a country that had produced Marmite, a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy, place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey and Shellow Bowells, people who said 'Mustn't grumble', and Gardeners' Question Time.
I can see why Bill’s books are popular. He talks about his experience in the UK with honesty. If he doesn’t like a town he will say it, he might try and make an excuse as to why he did not like it such as being tired that day, but you never get the sense that he is trying to ingratiate himself with the countries inhabitants.
In fact, he can be quite scathing in his commentary of places. He willingly points out the absurdity of some of the cultures, or expresses his disbelief as to why the locals behave in the way they do. The book was also quite informative. For example, he will point out why so little money is given to National Parks to preserve the spots we regard so precious and beautiful, yet the government will happily spend money on other pointless ventures. This is all backed up with facts and figures. Whether these are accurate I couldn’t say but it is still insightful nonetheless.
Where Bill likes a place his enthusiasm shines through. I’ve never contemplated travelling to Iverness but the way Bill describes the town I am tempted. His observations of the landmarks are generally spot on and he comments on all the so called tourist attractions good or bad.
It is observations from the local people he encounters on his travels that are the real winner in this book though. Bill provides funny observations as to how the British do things differently to the Americans. Some of these make perfect sense whilst others seem ludicrous. Coupled with these insights are the genuine events that occur to him as he stays in the various bedsits. Some bedsit managers make Basil Fawlty look candid. It is rare that a book makes me laugh out loud, but I did a couple of times in this book. His differences between men and women paragraph was spot on.
The book doesn’t always work. Some of the travelling can sometimes appear a little to meandering and some of the anecdotes Bill recounts are not always interesting or spoil the rhythm of the book. I think reading about a country I am not familiar with will also be more rewarding, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about his experience of travelling around the UK and feel proud to be British.
My rating 7.8