Customer Review

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Serendipitous Conjunctions and Grotesque Collisions", 18 July 2014
This review is from: Museum Without Walls (Paperback)
Jonathan Meades’s book comprises fifty-four essays, selected and edited by his wife, of varying length and arranged within seven thematic sections. There are also six scripts of episodes from Meades’s television series. The title, of course, refers to the built environment in the great outdoors. In his introduction, Meades succinctly sums up its contents: “This book is the product of an obsessive preoccupation with places … Much of it evidently concerns buildings, the gaps between them, their serendipitous conjunctions and grotesque collisions.”

Yet it’s not all architecture and topography: Meades also writes affectively of his childhood – “The Boy’s First Pint was about as close as middle-class, middle-century, middle England got to the bar mitzvah” (a different kind of bar) – as well as of food and drink – “a country in which beer has primacy is bound to suffer culinary impoverishment.”

Some idea of Meades’s writing style and the breadth – and depth – of his knowledge and interests can be gleaned from the book’s first essay. Here, amidst his “expressions of an incurable topophilia” (I now know of what I too ‘suffer’: later he confesses to being a “topophiliac pervert”), he deals with chalk and cheese (literally), buzzards, combine harvesters, David Beckham, and football teams 36.5% ginger or 81% Steve – all contained in just seven paragraphs. In the first four pages I laughed out loud twice: the first time about rabbits, the second about the implications of Tony Blair’s London home having a basement.

One might disagree with much of what he says – I disagreed a lot – but one can only marvel at the ingenuity of the attack. It often comes out of nowhere, heavily fortified with a compelling and heady mixture of verbosity and humour. Assuredly, he will make you think and scramble for counter-arguments. Certainly, some observations are just plain rants – such as his rage against “vehicular correctness” in ‘London Transport’ – but I can forgive anyone who can write a sentence like “Gosport twinkles enticingly” and mean it.

But my advice is not to read too many chapters in one go, as this induces a headache. Moreover, whilst not as ‘bad’ as Will Self, the presence of a dictionary close at hand is advised for looking up the occasional term that is not paramartially a neologism.
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Nicholas Casley
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Location: Plymouth, Devon, UK

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