Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It has been twenty years since Bill Bryson, a writer originally hailing from a small town in Iowa, fell in love with Great Britain where people are delighted in small pleasures, call strangers “Love,” and orderly wait on lines in public without peevishness. So much so that he has even married one. Now it is high time that Bryson returns to the States along the lines of Odyssey, who returned home in Ithaca twenty years after the decade-long Trojan War and another decade of travails. In retrospection of the memories collected on his beloved adopted homeland, Bryson decides to take a valedictory jaunt around the island small but big enough to nurture him with a wealth of culture and a bounty of humanity. And he does it on public transportation and by hiking equipped with his trademark razor-sharp wits, intractably keen intelligence, and his usual touchy-feely way of observing people and things that either irk or pique him. All of it comes to fruition in this highly amusing and genially forthright travel memoir.
You will be surprised to find out that the British think that the cereals are their invention. You will be overawed by the ubiquitous hedgegrows dated back to Anglo-Saxon times embroidering on the British landscape. Bryson will also take us for a ride in a London cab driven by an affably jocular cabbie who has to pass the Knowledge Test to memorize almost everywhere in the City of London. But London is not his demarcation of traveling. Bryson will further come along with you to Bournemouth, Exeter, Liverpool, which is his favorite city, Manchester, and even up north to Scotland all by train or coach, and by walking. With his truculent feistiness, irrepressible inquisitiveness, and scintillating sense of humor fabulously ingrained in his choice of the apropos words and jovial descriptions devoid of malice, Bryson is a cool cicerone, and your excursion will never be a bore.
The book seems to be primarily aimed for British readers who might be curious about what a foreigner would think of them and their country as a whole. In that regard, Bryson’s words are predominately British in the sense that the words and expressions he uses in the narrative are familiar to the British. For example, “bank holidays,” “coach,” “lorry,” or “Sainsbury’s” are peculiar to the British ways of life. But this kind of cultural barrier is kindly tackled by Bryson by providing you with a glossary of the British terms at the end of the book.
I have read other books by Bryson because of the same reason that induced me to select this book: his story-telling like narration is very appealing to me with his proverbial witticism smeared in every word he employs. He may appear to be a grumpy American man, but he has a heart to feel and see milk of human kindness in every quotidian thing or nondescript person by using the most appropriate words in wonderfully lucid expressions. There is a charm in his writing that will make you an admirer of his writings, and this book is no exception. It is Bryson’s long love letter to the small island he has fallen for head over heels with sincerity sealed with kisses and memories.