27/12/2010

"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.

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