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The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain [Paperback]

Paul Theroux
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Feb 1985

Award winning writer Paul Theroux embarks on a journey that, though closer to home than most of his expeditions, uncovers some surprising truths about Britain and the British people in the '80s in The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain.

Paul Theroux's round-Britain travelogue is funny, perceptive and 'best avoided by patriots with high blood pressure...'

After eleven years living as an American in London, Paul Theroux set out to travel clockwise round the coast and find out what Britain and the British are really like. It was 1982, the summer of the Falklands War, the ideal time, he found, to surprise the British into talking about themselves. The result makes superbly vivid and engaging reading.

'A sharp and funny descriptive writer. One of his golden talents, perhaps because he is American and therefore classless in British eyes, is the ability to chat up and get on with all sorts and conditions of British. . . Theroux is a good companion' The Times

'Filled with history, insights, landscape, epiphanies, meditations, celebrations and laments' The New York Times

'Few of us have seen the entirety of the coast and I for one am grateful to Mr Theroux for making my journey unnecessary. He describes it all brilliantly and honestly' Anthony Burgess, Observer

American travel writer Paul Theroux is known for the rich descriptions of people and places that is often streaked with his distinctive sense of irony; his other non-fiction titles, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Happy Isles of Oceania, Sunrise with Seamonsters, The Tao of Travel, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, The Old Patagonian Express, The Great Railway Bazaar, Dark Star Safari, Fresh-air Fiend, Sir Vidia's Shadow, The Pillars of Hercules, and his novels and collections of short stories, including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize winner The Mosquito Coast are available from Penguin.

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The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain + The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas (Penguin Modern Classics) + Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town
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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: 2.3 x 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 17,876 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 was born in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1941, and published his first novel, Waldo, in 1967. His subsequent novels include Picture Palace, winner of the Whitbread Prize for Fiction, The Mosquito Coast, and the hugely acclaimed, Kowloon Tong. His travel books include The Great Railway Bazaar and The Pillars of Hercules.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kingdom by the Sea 11 Oct 2007
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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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maybe selective, but not inaccurate 18 Mar 2008
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the wait? 4 Jan 2010
By Stuart
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An informative and entertaining read.
This is a marvelous book,I will be hanging on to this one.
Published 29 days ago by Mrs. C. E. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Not sure who I bought this for.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. Marie A. Hancocvk
4.0 out of 5 stars great bit of history!
Theroux is travelling around Britain's coastline in 1981 when the Falklands War broke out. He is walking and taking trains and meeting people along the way, staying in guest houses... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Andrew Marriott
2.0 out of 5 stars A Potboiler
I rather rate Theroux as a travel writer but this tome struck me as a rather cynical jaunt around various parts of the coastline where he attempted to find the worst in people. Read more
Published 14 months ago by rayc
4.0 out of 5 stars the kingdom by the sea
A good read but not a patch on Bill Brysons book on GB a bad picture of the British nature where Bill captures the humour, good to travel the British Isles but wanted to know more... Read more
Published 17 months ago by compulsive reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and (almost) contemporary
A well known travel writer travels clockwise around the British Coast, describing what he sees and who he meets. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Andreas Wilhelm
3.0 out of 5 stars Out of time
This book has been on my list of `must reads' for about 10 years but I hadn't realised just how long ago it was written. Read more
Published 23 months ago by E. A. Banks
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr Grumpy's travels
A typical Theroux travel guide - brutally honest, misanthropic and often gleefully unfair to the people and places he encounters. Read more
Published on 7 Nov 2011 by Stephen Hudson
5.0 out of 5 stars Not flattering, but accurate.
I can understand why some of the other reviews posted here have said some of the things that they did. Read more
Published on 19 Dec 2010 by Stewart M
4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing tour of the British coast during the Falkland War
The acclaimed travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux lived in England for a long time, and yet until the very end of his stay there he had not written a travel book about it. Read more
Published on 20 April 2010 by M. A. Krul
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