Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ll start with an admission: I’ve not entirely finished this book.
The reason is convoluted and involves a useless budget airline, a dreadful Asian airport in one of the worst capital cities in the world, a stressed, grumpy and forgetful Englishman and his rather small hand luggage which forced him to carry – rather aptly – Bill Bryson’s grumpy travelogue. The upshot is that I left it, and my tattered nerves, somewhere in Dhaka airport and didn’t notice until almost on the plane and unable to return through security checks.
What’s most annoying is that I only had a few pages left to go and that I will now never know just how Bryson got on in Istanbul. Yes, I could buy another copy, I know, but as i don’t rate this book so highly (I’m forced to put four stars but really it’s more like 3.5) I’m not likely to do so just to finish the last couple of chapters. And to be honest I don’t think they’ll change my opinion too much.
This is early Bryson and while it is obvious his writing was good/hilarious enough to bring him to fame way back in the 80s I don’t find it as satisfying as his later books. The ingredients are all there: comic incidents, hilarious commentary, rude and vulgar language and sexualised thoughts. But there’s less intelligence, less insightful commentary which abounds in his books about the UK.
In short summary you could say that ‘Neither Here nor There’ is one middle-aged grumpy man’s failure to find anything nice in Europe or even open. That’s unfair, of course it is, but as an approximate summary it’s not far off the mark.
Yet, it’s still Bill Bryson; and Bryson not at his best is still a heck of a lot better than most other writers can manage when they’re on point. Every chapter is humorous and most contain at least something interesting about the place he’s visiting. The best was arguably the chapter on Lichtenstein which was perhaps the forerunner to some of his best writing in years to come. The facts he came up with were unusual, interesting and hugely entertaining. Something like this was to be found throughout the book. If only there had been more of this kind of perfection.
Europe has changed a lot since the 80s and early 90s. I’ve visited a few of the places Bryson went to or read honest reviews and it’s clear the world of the tourist is rather different now to how it was then. But I also know that Bryson, if he went touring again, would undoubtedly find something to moan about. That’s his trademark I guess: Take it or leave it.
So no, I won’t be buying a second copy of this book in order to find out if Istanbul was a kind of nirvana experience for Bill or not. But I am glad that this is another book ticked off the list from his collection to read. I do intend to complete all his books before I die (should be easy as I’ve read the vast majority now) but I can’t help but feel I’ve already done the best ones and all that’s left is C+ graded material. Still, I’d rather this than the plethora of rubbish on offer on most bookshelves today.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!
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