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Cashing in your "Lemons"
on 18 June 2003
Certain books have created entire niche markets. Peter Mayles with "Year in Provence" for France, Chris Stewart for Spain, Annie Hawes for Italy, Bill Bryson and Michael Palin for everywhere else.
On the back of the success these books, publishers look around to find anyone who can put one word reasonably intelligibly after another, particularly on the popular format of "UK a dead loss, so moved south to sun, quaint customs and curious characters". There are heaps of them, some, like "Spanish Lessons", despite being written by professional writers, are blatant potboilers.
Peter Kerr's books, sincere as they may be, are simply not well enough written to escape this "potboiler" categorisation. The writing is just not good enough. There is not the quality of description or depth of insight to leave anything of an aftertaste or flavour about the place or the endeavour. Apart from the fact that it featured the usual crew of a shifty character who turns out to be a rough diamond and pleasant folk who turn out to be genteel rogues, "Snowball Oranges" was as memorable as an in-flight magazine: it passed the time. I read it in one go and dumped it.
For anyone who thinks Mr. Kerr's books are good writing about Spain, Norman Lewis's "Song of an Old Sea" will show what magic can be conjured from apparently simple prose, what can be done to draw you in, despite having less of a narrative to hang it all on.
If, on reading the final page, I toss a book aside or leave it on a plane seat, I feel that it has failed. "Snowball Oranges" is that kind of book.