Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Here's a book review as I've forgotten what the Jam gig was like

Paul Theroux – Ghost Train To The Eastern Star

I like travel books. Or rather I like some travel books. I can’t stand the contrived efforts where the author or his publisher feels the need to add a wacky ‘angle’ to it. You know the sort of thing, bloke travels around Ireland, not by himself, not even with his family, oh no too easy, so he takes a fridge around with him instead. And not even a working fridge where at least he would have the benefit of a cold beer every now and again and somewhere to keep his pile cream cool, but an empty, unplugged fridge. Just for the contrariness of it all. And if there isn’t a suitable inanimate object then they try and artificially introduce a bit of tension to the tale by japes such as refusing to refuel their car at anything but independent petrol stations or by sleeping in nothing but a B & B managed by Red Indians and serving organic unicorn eggs for breakfast.

I read one book recently where some bloke was walking the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. Great, I thought, that’s an interesting journey. Not interesting enough though apparently as he was unable to make the trip without dragging a donkey along behind him for additional comic effect. I suppose the creature was fortunate not to have a fucking freezer stuffed up its jacksie. Ariston, the Arse and the Ass, I can picture it on the shelves now. If I worked at a book company and I was pitched any of these ideas I’d be insisting on adding a few of my own little quirks. How about replacing the fridge with a couple of live hand grenades? Pins out of course. And rather than picking up a donkey at the hire desk, give them a pit bull or two to keep for company. If they would rather not eat or refuel at ‘chain outlets’, then extend the same restrictions to using the toilets and let them trek across America, soiling their pants as they go until their underwear gradually fills up with enough crap for the pit bulls to decide to slink off into the woods and for dropping the hand grenades to seem like an attractive option.

What I like is travel writing where the author goes somewhere, tells you what he sees, tells you about the people that he met and gives you his thoughts on it all. Simple really, and exactly what Paul Theroux does. My favourite of his until now is The Great Railway Bazaar, a book that he wrote in his early thirties whilst travelling mainly by train from London to Japan and back. Thirty three years on, at twice the age, he retraced his steps in Ghost Train To The Eastern Star, where we get more of the same, but with the added benefit of seeing how the places that he visited in the earlier book have changed and how he sees them and life differently through the eyes of a much older man. No fridges, no donkeys, no smartarse gimmicks. Highly recommended.

And the picture is what he might have seen if he had looked out of the window in Croatia.


  1. Brilliant gratuitous use of the high jump girl.

    Maybe you could write a book where you travel through Croatia stalking her (and buying the odd property)?

  2. She's looking quite good for 55 ish

  3. What does the cover look like?

  4. I've no idea about the cover, it might have a train on it. I've recovered it anyway with the Berlin World Championships Commemorative poster.

    I think you may be mixing train journeys up Paul, I was thinking more about him looking out of the window on his recent journey rather than the early seventies one where her mother was probably doing the shot put.