Books 2010

Down Under by Bill Bryson (2000)
20th Century Cars by Hilton Holloway & Martin Buckley (2003)
Around The World In 80 Dates by Jennifer Cox (2006)
The Ghost by Robert Harris (2007)

Mr. Darcy's Diary by Maya Slater (2007)
Night Of The Living Dad by Sam Delaney (2009)
Pandaemonium by Christopher Brookmyre (2009)
Adventures On The High Teas by Stuart Maconie (2009)


"Down Under"

by Bill Bryson

A couple of years ago I archived many of my books to the loft due to a lack of shelf space here in the East Wing. Now I'm bringing down a box at a time, the contents of which fit approximately on a shelf, and it's fun to rediscover them. Now I'm on the "B"s, amongst them this account of the author's travels around Australia.

Robert Louis Stevenson said:
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.
This quote comes from Travels with a Donkey in the CĂ©vennes (1879), a "pioneering classic of outdoor literature" (it says here on Wikipedia) and clearly a forerunner of the kind of travel books that Bill Bryson writes. But for me - not much of a traveller - it also explains why I get so much enjoyment out of reading books for a second, third or fourth time (or more; I've read Pride and Prejudice at least once a year since I was eighteen). The pleasure for me is more in the detail and the skill in which a good book is put together - the journey - than it is in knowing the ending or remembering any specifics.

In any case, a travel book doesn't have a plot so there is no ending to remember. To make a satisfying read, however, it still needs a beginning, a middle and an end. This is one of the reasons I think Bryson is successful, because he structures his books well, and Down Under is no exception. That said, the book is the result of several visits to Australia, and this is clear throughout, which does make it slightly disjointed. Nevertheless, it shows his usual traits of copious research and amusing recurring themes. The main one in this case is his obsession with the bewildering variety of potentially fatal flora and fauna at large in the continent, something he returns to time and again.

All in all, an enjoyable, easy-going read in the company of one of my favourite authors.


"20th Century Cars"

by Hilton Holloway & Martin Buckley

Subtitled "The Complete Guide to the Century's Classic Automobiles", this book provides a brief history and photograph on each of almost 400 cars from Europe and the US over the twentieth century. The choice of cars is mostly straightforward, although there are some glaring omissions - for example, the Bentley 3 Litre that won Le Mans twice in the 1920s, or the original Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, in both cases the cars that established their makers' reputations. In fact, there are very few pre-Second World War cars in the book at all, something that makes me wonder whether this book is in fact just a quick update to Buckley's earlier book The Encyclopaedia of Classic Cars, which covers the period 1947 - 1975.

The photos are mostly good quality and the text is usually informative, although it could have done with better editing as occasionally it contradicts itself. Overall, it's a good overview of classic cars for someone with passing interest or a young person wishing an introduction.


"Around The World In 80 Dates"

by Jennifer Cox

In which intrepid journalist and travel reporter Jennifer resolves to travel the world searching for her soul mate, who, she believes, must be Out There Somewhere. With assistance from her many and varied friends, with a constant eye on the next destination (and at least half an eye on the book deal, surely), she jumps from date to date, documenting all with a lively wit and a light touch.

It reads like a kind of female version of Are You Dave Gorman?, a madcap dash around the world and the weird and wonderful people in it. That's no bad thing; Gorman's book is immense fun, and I very much enjoyed this too. It's like a real life chick-lit novel, and as is absolutely necessary for such a book, it does have a happy ending - I don't think I'd be giving away too much if I told you that she does meet her soul mate.

It's a nice, easy read and I recommend it. However, if you feel short of time, you could read the Observer article instead.


"The Ghost"

by Robert Harris

The film of this book was generally well reviewed and so for some reason I decided to read the book first. I've read a couple of Harris's books before (Fatherland and Enigma, if memory serves, although I've got a feeling I didn't finish the latter) and while I can't say I'm a huge fan, the premise seemed strong enough to make it worth a go.

Just in case you don't know, the book is written by an unnamed ghost writer who is employed to write the autobiography of a recently resigned UK Prime Minister who is currently being accused of war crimes relating to the Gulf War.  The ex-Prime Minister is a highly personable man with a high-profile, controversial wife.  But something's not quite as it seems, and the previous ghost writer has died under mysterious circumstances ...

No prizes for guessing that it's supposed to be about the Blairs and so it's difficult to read it without having that in the background. Maybe that's intentional; Harris is obviously Making A Point and wants it to be clear who he is Making A Point about.

But, as a thriller, it's not really very thrilling.  Really, all Harris wants to do is accuse Blair of being a CIA puppet.  Although - shocking twist alert - really he's just a puppet of his conniving wife, who is a CIA secret agent!  Yawn.

So, not subtle at all.  It would have wasted less of my time if he'd just written a short pamphlet on his accusations.  But then I guess he would have had to defend himself in court, whereas this way he can hide behind the "fiction".

Anyway, I didn't enjoy this, as you can probably tell, and in fact I didn't finish it properly at all. I got most of the way through, mainly because it was the only book I had with me in a hotel, but I flicked through the last 40 pages to see how it ended.