Bill Bryson: The road to Little Dribbling

The-Road-to-Little-Dribbling-235x350Ah, Mr Bill Bryson again! His most recent tome is constantly in your face in every bookshop. But I continue to find him, in equal measure, both infuriating and endearing. Now that he has British citizenship (without giving up his American, of course), when he eventually shuffles off this mortal coil (not just yet I hope), he will be lauded as a proverbial ‘national treasure’. Though he has said many bad things about this little country of ours, they have always been pronounced from a podium of love. So, before I spell out some of his many redeeming qualities, justifying his future ennoblement as a ‘national treasure’, let me tip the balance a little.

Infuriatingly, what I struggle to like about Bryson’s travel writing is that he’s not really a traveller at all. He’s a dilettante of the travelling world. His journeys are seldom continuous, self-supported (his wife does most of his bookings) and don’t seem to have any obvious direction that provide any kind of logic to his meanderings. He pretends to be following his own ‘Bryson line’, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, but the only evidence that he actually does this is where he starts from (Bognor Regis) and where he finishes (Cape Wrath). Nowhere on the journey do we suspect he is remotely near the Bryson line. And given that the Scottish leg of the journey is no more than a quick train dash up to the far north west, visiting nowhere en route, I begin to wonder why he bothered in the first place.

I groan interminably when he assesses the worth of places on the strength of the kinds of shops and cafés on the high streets, and anywhere that has a bookshop qualifies it (in his biased opinion) for a 5 star rating. Too often he flits from town to town, has a coffee and a snack (groan-worthy repetition in every chapter), and within an hour or two he has formulated his opinion about the town (for better or worse), before flitting on to the next place. He never actually engages with anyone, apart from waiters and serving staff. He makes observations from afar, from inside his own little Brysonian bubble, and the inhabitants of these places will either be hugely delighted or mortally offended by his judgements.  In short, he covers too many places, too superficially, without any evidence of continuity in his journey. His book amounts to a lot of disconnected snapshots, taken over a period of time, to fit in with his many other engagements, and (I suspect) a team of researchers have helped him to fill the gaps with what have become (endearingly) the many Bryson witty observations and capsules of British history.

Endearingly, however, he does have a lot of redeeming qualities, enough (in fact) to earn him a handsome living from the millions of books he has sold. His vantage point of being the ‘foreigner’ on British soil gives him a unique perspective for both lavishing praise and dealing out the dirt. After a few chapters, he has laid bare his personality and temperament so clearly that, if he were to visit your town or village, you reckon you could predict his reaction immediately. But you may not be sure that you would ever want him to pay a visit…….

The two literary devices that make his writings so eminently readable include his skilful use of language (he’s a master of the art of drawing word-pictures) and his sense of humour. The latter is a clever fusion of self-deprecating observations with reputation-destroying gibes and jeers directed at people and groups who need to learn a thing or two. The thing about Bryson is that he manages to criticise others with a smile on his face, making us all feel that he is on our side anyway, and he really loves us.

However, once I have had a dose of Bryson, I’m done for a year or two, thankful that he doesn’t churn out the books in multiples of anything other than one at a time.


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on April 9, 2016, in Book reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Jesus Ibañez

    Dejar Frank: I do agree with most of what you said on this book in particular and Mr. Bryson in general. I found the book at a lesser level than his first I read “Notes on a small island” , though I enjoyed the readiing. I did not liked the use he did of some, for me at least, no elegant words “f … ” and others. I know this point is ver personal.
    I do enjoy his “divulgative” works on the English language, Shakespeare, And above all his over 900 Pages on almost everything.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

It is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver - Mahatma Gandhi.

Matildas Musings

A blog written by Matilda - the "old lady" classic tandem - and her Musings about her adventures, trials and tribulations with the "old git" and Chief Pilot, aka Colin and the "old gal" and Chief Stoker (as well as Chief Engineer) aka Diane.

Fit Recovery

Stay Clean Get Fit

Northern Walker

Lightweight backpacking, hillwalking and bicycle touring adventures in Northern England and Scotland

Looking For 42

Traveling the world looking for the meaning for life (and whatever else I might find along the way)

Off The Beaten Path

All contents ©2018 Compass Cycles.

Bike 5

Five miles or less? Bikes are best!


KITESURFING, CYCLING, SUP: ramblings, idiocy and not much more

Cycling Dutch Girl

the only certainty is change


On a bicycle from coast to coast across the USA

Self Propelled

Self propelled adventures through life; blogging on cycling, touring, micro-adventures, general shenanigans, and environmental news


Cycling across Europe, Cornwall to Munich

The Vicious Cycle

A man searches for between leg shavings

2 l o v e c y c l i n g

It's about cycling ... and other travels

There And Back Again

Life at 15 miles per hour

As Easy As Riding A Bike

Well it should be, shouldn't it?

Bike Around Britain

Blog on cycling around the coast of Britain

David Noble's Blog

Life, Loves and Living


The Weston Front - the destination of a road less travelled...

The Innocent Bikestander

It can be better

Bike, Banjo & Baby

They go together so well

Something for Kiki and the Pok

the adventures of Christopher Yardin - by plane, bike, through a lens, or the eyes of a child


Cycling Blog

Richard Tulloch's LIFE ON THE ROAD

Travel adventures on wheels and legs


................."Cherry picking the nicest places in the world to cycle"

Gippsland Granny

Musings from Metung

Serendipities of life

Taking the road less travelled

I Do Not Despair

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. ~H.G. Wells

Tom’s Bike Trip

Adventures and experiments in two-wheeled travel

All Seasons Cyclist

Real World Product Reviews For Avid Cyclists

machacas on wheels

Taking the road less travelled

%d bloggers like this: