I have been looking forward to reading this book. I loved Notes From a Small Island and can still clearly remember reading it; I was on holiday on a Nile Cruise, sitting under the awning of the rear deck of the boat in the hot midday sun listening to Buena Vista Social Club on my discman and engrossed in my book until my partner suddenly prodded me and told me to be quiet! I had been laughing out loud without even realising it!
The problem with having a sense of anticipation about something is that the event or thing can sink under the weight of expectation. And I’m afraid this book did, at least a little.
There were still some laugh out loud stories and anecdotes. And I loved the random selection of places Bryson visited using his north-ish to south-ish line drawn down mainland UK. I liked the fact there were some really obscure places included as well as some well-known ones.
There was also the usual quota of quirky facts; although none with quite the impact of the opening of Down Under!
What was really missing from this book though was the kindness, tolerance and affection of the earlier books. Bill Bryson appears to have become a grumpy, intolerant old man and I feel sad at this.
I can understand that travelling around a place you live and are going to continue living doesn’t bring out the same feelings of nostalgic affection as towards a place you are about to leave behind. And I also understand that as one ages ones views change. But I still feel sad that a loved author appears to have lost his joie de vivre. It feels like going back to a favourite holiday destination after 20 years and finding out it has changed beyond all recognition.
The worst thing of all is that I feel robbed of the feeling of looking forward to the next book. I’ll probably buy it and read it. But I’ll do so with a sense of trepidation.