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Enjoyable in parts
on 12 May 2013
I have enjoyed Stuart Maconie's other books and his work on the radio. This, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. It reads as though the book was written and published in a rush.
Maconie sets up each chapter with a quote about a particular year. He soon wanders a long way from this quote - usually but not always - telling the reader of his travels. His travels are the best part of the book. He seems most comfortable and most readable when he is meeting owners of cafes and eating teacakes. He illuminates the 'ordinary' person. Early chapters are very readable, although the writer tends to write more about the north of England than any other parts of Britain. He misses out Scotland altogether and has very little to say about the history of Wales.
About midway through, the book looses direction. There is a huge chapter on football with the sort of commentary that you hear from certain sorts of young football enthusiasts on the train from Cardiff to London. For the person who has no interest in football at all, this is purgatorial. I skipped most of it. After this chapter comes one that slips into a rant about the royal family. The trouble is that we have heard all of this before. The book is probably at its best when Maconie is almost invisible and at its worst when it degenerates into sociological jargon. In a book of this sort, we need to know less of Maconie's own opinions and leave the 'facts' to speak for themselves. It is also irritating when the author uses the book to let the reader know what Maconie has achieved.
There are numerous factual errors throughout the book and a lot of typos. Careful editing would have caught these errors before the book got into print. Generally, then, an enjoyable read but one that could have been so much better.