Tuesday 9 June 2015

Reviewing the evidence again - Notes From a Small Island

Title: Notes From a Small Island (US Link)
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: non-fiction

A few starting notes:

Notes from a small islandWritten about 20 years ago, this nevertheless was on my tbr list simply because I thought that it would be interesting to see how a nominal American (with a strong adoptive link to the UK) would see Britain. Plus Bill Bryson always makes me laugh.


Before nipping off in a move back over the pond with his kids to give them a taste of American life, Bill Bryson decides to do a tour of the UK to say farewell to a land he has come to love.

Best bits:

This is the Britain that is truly British. Forget all the British values Bulldogs and Union Jacks nonsense that Mr Cameron is intent on fabricating, this is the true UK - the UK I grew up in. This is the land of queuing and Panda Pops and eccentrics - this is the real Great Britain. Now, I'm no happy-clappy Welsh nationalist (even if I was so inclined they'd never let me because my first language is English and I think that Cymdeithas yr Iaith need to think twice before vandalising historic buildings for ridiculous campaigns of inanity,) but like many, I have most definitely felt over the past few years that the English view of Britain only really includes England. After all, giving the same title of Prince of Wales to both Llewellyn the Last and Old Charlie Boy is down-right insulting, but thus it has been for centuries now without ever asking us what we think. This though showed me that I truly am British - it made me feel included again without resorting to God Save the Queen and Big Ben.

It's also exceptionally funny - I love Bryson's sense of humour, and his admiration for the beauty of Britain. He writes well and draws you along through the book. This is something that shows even more in non-fiction, where sometimes you can be stalled by stodgy writing and excessive details.

Not so great bits:

There's little to offend here, but there are a few off-key jokes which may offend some (including one about Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll's predisposition for little girls, for example,) but they are done in the time honoured tradition of dark humour. There's also much swearing.

This was written 20 years ago - and while it still feels pleasantly fresh in most places, there are moments relating to current events and politics which snap you right back to the fact that you're reading this with a time delay. It's not too much of a negative, but it's occasionally noticeable. 


This is a fabulous book. I spent pages smiling for no real reason. I advise anyone who lives in, has seen, has been to, or has ever been interested in the UK to read it. It's worth the effort.

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