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Pier Review: A Road Trip in Search of the Great British Seaside Paperback – 11 Feb 2016
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'Peerless'(Danny Wallace) --.
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This is a fun story and the reader is invited into the (no doubt very smelly) Renault Clio. I'd get in if I were you.
FWIW I grew up in a little village handy for Burnham-on-Sea, before moving to Birmingham (if the cost you've experienced is brown, bubbly and rumoured to be radioactive, proximity to the sea certainly isn't high in your list of requirements). For me – and I imagine many others – it's immensely enjoyable to read a book like this narrated by – to put it as nicely as I can – people who lived their lives in a real city (not London) and weren't homogenised by the establishment factories in Oxford or Cambridge.
Seriously, read it now.
As a landlocked Brummie, the only source of nautical enjoyment I have is from canals, lidos and those awful plastic swimming pools you get from Argos (the ones that are never as fun as you hope they're going to be. Thanks, MOM). Danny, Jon and their grumpy pixie friend, Midge, feel the call of the ocean, as most Brummies do, and decide to visit all the piers in England and Wales. What follows is a journey involving spooky visions, Danny swearing, Midge getting lost a lot, Jon freaking out a lot, Danny swearing, Midge getting lost again, and lots and lots of piers. Our travelling heroes form an unlikely, sweaty, bromantic bond across the coasts, battling homophobia, lost luggage and a fight to make sense of their memories of the sea, the coast, the family trip to Pontins.
You'll learn fun and not-so-fun facts about the piers, you'll gain a new appreciation for the type of architecture we're pulling down all the time, in a neverending quest to have More, Better New Stuff. The book goes back and forth between Jon and Dan (sometimes confusingly so in the Kindle version, which has some formatting errors which makes Jon sound mental at points, as he asks himself about his own bag) and the authors have distinct enough voices that it rarely gets confusing. Within a few words you know when Jon or Danny's talking and the funniest bits are the running gags about their Fantasy Island friend.
It's funny, it's poignant, and it'll make you want to visit the piers before they burn down, fall apart or get turned into bingo halls or coffee shops.
BONUS REVIEW FOR KINDLE VERSION -
The actual paper version of the book handily lets you know whether it's Danny or Jon going on by using slightly bolder text for Dan. This isn't available in the Kindle version, but their voices are distinct enough that it isn't usually a problem. A small gripe, that could maybe be fixed by whacking a D or J before each entry, but I imagine that would be tedious to do. There's also a bunch of small formatting errors that I presume will be sorted in a future revision and don't really harm the experience.
Jon adds a humane touch to his observations, making sociological points without being po-faced or deadening. I may be biased, in that I met him once in a pub, and it may be that I share his Brummie sense of humour, but this is an excellent book that makes me jealous that I can't capture my own trips (mainly to Scottish islands and standing stones) with the same light touch but depth of observation. It feels very real to me, but at the same time, novelistic. This is a great book - I laughed, I thought, I went to the internet to research the locations, with a view to planning a trip of my own. Outstanding.
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