I have to say I'm surprised by some of the customer reviews on this book. Could it be perhaps they hadn't read a Paul Theroux book before and didn't know what to expect? UK fans of Theroux's misanthropic, razor-sharp observations should have no qualms about the author turning his sights on Britain. Yes, 'The Kingdom by the Sea' is full of monstrous characateurs and Philip Larkin-esque mockery but, more importantly, brilliant observational and descriptive writing . Theroux manages (just) to make the rather relentless and tedious exercise of circumnavigating the British coast contstantly engaging and funny. As with (the also often misinterpreted) Larkin there is empathy beneath the cynicism. Theroux has a good eye for character and, for an American, a good ear for Britain's regional vernacular.
If you want travel writing that idealises its destinations then this is clearly not for you. If you want something balanced and objective this is also a poor bet. Paul Theroux's books don't pretend to be such things, although he makes some lofty claims about hoping to understand the British people and culture in the introduction. If you are familiar with his writing you will know that his books say just as much about the author than about his subjects; the writer Graham Greene described as having 'a chip of ice' in his heart. Theroux can be grumpy and brutal, but never less than engaging. Some of the reviewers make it sound like this book has wounded their national pride. I would be surprised if they don't at least recognize the Britain portrayed in these pages. He captures the national mood at a very definitive time: high unemployment and class conflict, the Falklands, British Rail, skin heads and mods. What is most striking about this novel is how much things in many ways have changed in the 15 years since then, and also how much has not.