Top critical review
... Can You Go' is one of my all time favourite travel reads)
on 11 October 2014
I adore Tom Chesshyre's writing ('How Low Can You Go' is one of my all time favourite travel reads), so discovering that he had a new book in the offing was cause for excited anticipation. However, having just finished the book, I am left with a sense of vague disappointment.
This book is very different from what he's written previously because Tom doesn't have the same depth of knowledge and experience of North Africa as he has with Europe (which has provided the backdrop for his earlier books). To his credit, he is honest about his lack of familiarity with the region and this lends a sense of stumbling into the unknown and an unfamiliar edginess to some of the prose.
This book also contains less of Chesshyre's characteristic humour - possibly because life in the countries he visited is no laughing matter. There is a pervasive sense that despite the expectations that fuelled the Arab Spring, little has changed for people on the ground, and his recurrent theme is that they have seen no economic opportunity to compensate for the turmoil they've endured. Perhaps it's the lack of even a glimmer of a happy ending that distinguishes this from what he's previously written about the 'new' Europe that has emerged since the fall of the Iron Curtain.
I also can't help wondering whether being published by a more 'serious' travel press - Bradt - has also put a slight damper on Chessyre's previous bounce.
I found the sections on Egypt more enjoyable than those on Tunisia and Libya - there's a sense that he's closer to familar territory, and his observation and writing is more confident as a result.
I agonised about whether to give this 3 or 4 stars - he's a gifted writer and it's still a good book. Perhaps the acid test is that I've torn through every other Chesshyre book from cover to cover, whereas this took me a couple of weeks to finish.