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As diverting as it is insubstantial
on 26 March 2008
This is a collection of articles and essays by A.A. Gill from a period of about 20 years, covering everything from the Glastonbury festival, to beetles, to modern Haiti. They are, by and large, fairly short piecees, and many are very funny, so they make for entertaining little bursts of reading.
It is not, however, a book which I can enjoy reading for any length of time, and that can be put down to a number of reasons. It must be admitted, I accept, that Gill is an excellent prose stylist, but there is at times a slight glibness about the writing that suggests deep and meaningful insights, but they are never really developed or rewarded. The description is frequently masterful: Gill's evocation of the appalling squalor of Haiti is striking, but it often ends there. But these merits cannot carry the book as a whole.
For this book can never really be successful as a book, simply because of its origins. These are journalistic pieces, and must perforce lack the thoroughness and rigour of more literary writing, regardless of the panache of the prose. When Gill writes about his father's dementia (in what is a touching and thoughtful piece), the reader is offered no more than a brief vignette, with no more than a passing gesture towards the wider issues which the article raises.
So, a recommendation? For holiday reading, or to take on the train, this is a very good book. As a book itself, it is frustrating.