Top critical review
5 people found this helpful
Good places, some precious writing
on 17 October 2015
Macfarlane has a good bead on some places we haven't been and he has a facility for nosing around in these places so that we go 'wow, I'd like to go there'. The Scottish isles passages are great. Some passages are just kind of sandwiched in there, such as the Palestinian one, which has already been much better served by his companion Shehadeh's books. Even his Cairngorm passage seems filled in a bit.
Unfortunately, he has a couple bad habits. He is list-y, you know a whole paragraph listing something, rocks, or trees or different birds. And I'm not talking a list of three or four long. I'm talking a WHOLE paragraph of birds. Doesn't he or his editor know we readers have little patience for this type of writing an as soon as we see 'oh, another MacFarlane list' we just go on to the next paragraph. He also thinks some of the 'characters' he bumps into are as interesting to us as they are to him. Unfortunately a few of them just come off as crackpots or weirdos. He can also be precious at times. The language is kind of opaque, could mean anything. I always think that if you can take a sentence and turn it inside out and it could carry the same weight, then it is kind of light. Say, for instance 'I felt somehow known by these boxes...these books which I appeared to open but which actually opened me.' So turn that around 'these books which opened but appeared to open me'. or whatever. (and I just found that opening to a random page). He uses that kind of stuff a lot. You know, he walked the road, but the road actually walked him; he climbed the mountain but mountain actually climbed inside him. It's weak. And he should stop it. But he does visit some neat places and definitely sets a scene. And when he isn't trying to be too zen he can be nicely self-deprecating and seem companionable.