Paul Theroux travels around the British coast clockwise, walking where possible, filling in the gaps or unwalkable sections by train & bus. I found it a very frustrating travelogue; Theroux is capricious, making seemingly arbitrary choices about where to stay, which towns or whole stretches of coast to miss out. I suppose with 7000 miles to cover, and, probably, a publishing deadline to meet, he had to do this? Some towns were reduced to a glimpse from a train window, or a sweeping generalisation, or a sound-bite from a local. Although set in the mid 80’s, if reminded me a bit of 1950’s newsreels; knotted hankies & windbreakers on the beach, vox pop from a man in a flat cap, smothering blowsy landladies... This struck me as a bit of a lazy book, scraping the barrel of critical journalism wherein lurks cynicism, condescension & stereotyping. The worst sin for me was that I don’t think PT enjoyed himself enough, nor did he respect the people, the places and the history. I know it can be funny to laugh at silly foreigners and cultural differences (Bill Bryson does it better than most), but travel writers are passing through and merely glimpsing another world. If everything is grim, or crass, tacky or sad, doesn’t that really mean that the writer just doesn’t understand his subject matter, or has no empathy for his subjects?
On the positive side, PT does write well (in patches) when describing the coastal scenery, and some of the evocations of people & places is poetic. I didn’t learn much about our islands, but I learnt a lot (or at least the views of a New Englander in London) about our habits as islanders.