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The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain Paperback – 28 Feb 1985

28 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (28 Feb. 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140071814
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140071818
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Theroux was born and educated in the United States. After graduating from university in 1963, he travelled first to Italy and then to Africa, where he worked as a Peace Corps teacher at a bush school in Malawi, and as a lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda. In 1968 he joined the University of Singapore and taught in the Department of English for three years. Throughout this time he was publishing short stories and journalism, and wrote a number of novels. Among these were Fong and the Indians, Girls at Play and Jungle Lovers, all of which appear in one volume, On the Edge of the Great Rift (Penguin, 1996).

In the early 1970s Paul Theroux moved with his wife and two children to Dorset, where he wrote Saint Jack, and then on to London. He was a resident in Britain for a total of seventeen years. In this time he wrote a dozen volumes of highly praised fiction and a number of successful travel books, from which a selection of writings were taken to compile his book Travelling the World (Penguin, 1992). Paul Theroux has now returned to the United States, but he continues to travel widely.

Paul Theroux's many books include Picture Palace, which won the 1978 Whitbread Literary Award; The Mosquito Coast, which was the 1981 Yorkshire Post Novel of the Year and joint winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was also made into a feature film; Riding the Iron Rooster, which won the 1988 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; The Pillars of Hercules, shortlisted for the 1996 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; My Other Life: A Novel, Kowloon Tong, Sir Vidia's Shadow, Fresh-air Fiend and Hotel Honolulu. Blindness is his latest novel. Most of his books are published by Penguin.

Product Description

About the Author

Paul Theroux's books include The Last Train to Zona Verde, Dark Star Safari, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Elephanta Suite, A Dead Hand, The Tao of Travel and The Lower River. The Mosquito Coast and Dr Slaughter have both been made into successful films. Paul Theroux divides his time between Cape Cod and the Hawaiian islands. His most recent work is Deep South.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Demob Happy on 11 Oct. 2007
Format: Paperback
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stuart on 4 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback
I've waited a few years to read this book, after vicariously joining Theroux in China, India, Oceania, the USA, South America, Russia & all points west. I knew he'd written this some time ago but was strangely resistant to reading it until I accompanied him to more exotic & interesting (you'd think) locations, & then I forgot about it until noticing it in Waterstone's recently. If I'd read it 10-15 years ago, I wouldn't have had half as much experience of the places he visits in this book, so it was quite satisying to not only get his take on places & towns I know but compare & contrast it to my own. We're not that far apart on most things.

Although written nearly 30 years ago, with the Falklands War as both backdrop & common interest point, & featuring the odd quizzical inaccuracy (Wales isn't IN England, Paul), the book has dated quite well, in my opinion, especially with regards to that unique British (one might say mainly 'English') fascination with trips away to the seaside.

As always, it's his encounters with the residents of the land he lived in for a decade but never explored which tend to make for his most satisfying, funny & incisive points of view. Theroux gives playful sobriquets to many of those he meets along the way while at the same time being occasionally critical of what he seems to see as generalistic national personality traits, & he's not averse to letting us know if he thinks this place a 'dump' or that place 'dead'. Yet this is what has always made Theroux's writing, indeed his very objectives of travelling, so attractive to me - his need to get to the 'soul' or 'core' of a people, to understand what makes them tick & what doesn't, to look at how landscape influences societies & vice versa.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By captain cuttle on 18 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback
Oh for the ability to see ourselves as others see us!

Kingdom by the Sea seems to have upset many readers. Although, more than just about any other race on the planet, the English are whip-sharp when it comes to poking fun at themselves, like most of us they don't want an outsider doing it for them.

Not that Theroux is an outsider by any means. He lived in England for 11 years and married an Englishwoman. So this book doesn't describe the initial impressions of some passer-by. It's an informed, if narrowly-focused, description of parts of the UK and the people who live there, by somebody who has developed a keen ear for the language and a sharp eye for the quirks that make Britain unique. In a more recent travel book, Pillars of Hercules, Theroux recalls this earlier work as follows: "Prejudices in Gibraltar were quite similar to those I had encountered in English seaside resorts, an enjoyable mixture of bluster and wrong-headedness, the Little Englander in full spate." It's that Little Englander who bears the brunt of Theroux's humour, the same person who provided so much material for Monty Python, the same person ridiculed in the film "Shirley Valentine".

It's hard to dispute the accuracy of Theroux's descriptions of coastal Britain twenty years ago, if not today. Lines of cars on the prom gazing seaward; scuzzy holiday camps; criminally-overpriced and substandard accommodation; yobos on public transit swearing in loud voices while the other passengers pretend they're not there; cozy, picturesque coves and garish amusement arcades; ubiquitous "shallies", their occupants glued to evening TV. Of course, this is a selective snapshot taken at a particular time (Britain was at war with the Falklands) but no less incisive for that reason.
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