Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island
He pines for the England he remembers from his early days, but he recalls a Britain that never actually existed. It becomes clear that he is missing the cosy image of the UK as featured in 1970s television. It was not there in 1973, and still not there in1993. He is angry that he cannot find what he is looking for. He is actually angry about a lot of things: dogs (he wants to kick small ones and beat big ones with a stick); fat people (because they get to the dessert trolley before him); and Rupert Murdoch's takeover of the Times. (OK with hindsight he might have been right about that one.)
Bryson would be a most objectionable travel companion: glaring at anyone he deems less than perfect; ranting whenever he fails to get his own way; penny pinching on food and accommodation, then surprised at the poor standard he receives.
He spends a great deal of the book complaining, or damning with faint praise. In spite of his regular assurances that he loves the country and will miss it when he leaves, he seems not actually to like a single thing in it. In fact at one point he devotes a whole page to listing things he dislikes about Britain, including Oxford. Within a very short time it becomes clear that he is a rude, self centred, overbearing, bad tempered tightwad.
Perhaps he is trying to be funny, and there are moments in the book that made me laugh out loud, but even after twenty years, in common with many Americans, he fails to understand irony, and when he attempts it he just ends up being cruel.