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VINE VOICEon 6 June 2002
Ranging from Cuba to Caher Island, whale watching in Quebec to trekking the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan, biking on a Harley through the American West to searching out the Franklin Graves in the High Arctic - this collection of Jim Perrin's travel writings does not fail to inspire. These essays exhibit all the hallmarks of the Perrin style: a self-conscious quest for the correct word or phrase and a rigorous honesty born of meticulous observation - all senses alert to the quirkily human and the strangely divine.
No subject is too arcane or too everyday, too sophisticated or too street, to escape the egalitarian sweep of his prose, encompassing everything from an encounter with a drug-carrying biker chick - "a gold bar skewered through her right nipple" - to a meditation on the Welsh writer Caradoc Evans, "the Hieronymous Bosch of the printed word". Eclectic literary touchstones are evident as always - peppered references include Thomas Traherne and Thomas Hardy, Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan, Krishnamurti and R.D.Laing - but there are also face-to-face meetings with fellow travel writers Jonathan Raban, Jan Morris, Barry Lopez and Dervla Murphy. Not to mention mystical moments on foot in the animal world - a lone wolf in Montana and the mythic rapport with a Bangor raven...
From beat raps on cafe-life in Machynlleth and bar-life in Budapest to poetic disquisitions on the subtle nuances of landscape, Perrin's elegant cadences rise and fall, from the classical to the demotic, from grouchy rant to romantic rhapsody, from abrasive critique to exquisitely delicate nature description. He gets right under the skin of a milieu, its character and culture - no more so than in Wales, his adoptive homeland - "All roads in my life seem to have led to Wales" - where you witness his true love and passion, expressed in the long final sequence "Travels With The Flea", which culminates in a heartfelt obituary to his faithful terrier,The Flea, a constant companion for 17 years, and concludes that "Love in its every form...is our truest point of connection into the world we inhabit."
For intellectuals you have here the postmodernist pilgrim par excellence. For the rest of us you have a damn fine author who is just as much at home eavesdropping on Welsh National Milk Bar chat as musing on corpse-burning on the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi. Read and enjoy. All life is here...
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on 3 November 2009
I was disappointed with this book. The Title, "Travels with the Flea", and the quote from "The Observer" on the front cover, i.e. "The pre-eminent writer on the British landscape", gives the impression that that is the main subject of the book. In fact travelling in Britain is a fairly minor part of it, the main subject being Perrin's travels around various parts of the world, much of which I really did not find interesting. However, in fairness I must add that I gave up on this book about two thirds of the way through it, so maybe the best bit was yet to come? Part of the problem for me was that I found Perrin's writing style a bit too flowery for my taste - sometimes the language gets in the way of the story. Another problem, and I don't blame the author for this, is that the print is ridiculously small - and, no, I don't have poor eyesight. Oh well, you can't please all of the people all of the time.
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on 7 October 2013
Though feeling slightly more disjointed than other JP books, the observations, the erudite detailing and the feelings invoked make this book a wonderful experience. The sad, final eulogy to the Flea is as stunning in its power as it is beautiful....thank you!
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on 16 November 2009
"Travels with the Flea" is the title of the long last section of this consistently brilliant book, and it is the part I found most knowledgeable and evocative, so anyone not reading this far misses a great deal. The type-size of the edition with a boat on the cover and that entirely deserved commendation is a bit on the small side, but you could always buy the one with the photo of an old hippy (Perrin himself, I think, outside the George Borrow hotel with his Jack Russell The Flea and a pint of Guinness in his hand). The type-size in that is fine and it has pictures too. I bought them both, because the second edition has a handful of additional essays, which shows you where I stand - this is great travel-writing, and as Jan Morris is quoted as saying somewhere, "the best ever written about Wales". The pieces about Wales are the ones I like best, and they took me back to when I was an American graduate student on an exchange scheme at Bangor University forty years ago (I met Perrin himself in those days - he was as wild, eccentric, weirdly knowledgeable and original then as he appears in his writing now). The other travel pieces not on Wales are also very strong. "Travels with a Harley" about careering round the western states of the U.S. of A. on one of our national icons is a hugely funny piece of comic writing, and unlike our sneering export Bill Bryson, Perrin is actually nice about the people he meets, as well as wonder-struck at the landscapes and steeped in the culture. In some ways Perrin's a throwback - he's pretty scholarly, can write a fabulous, balanced prose of classical precision and beauty that's maybe not all that much to the taste of unread readers. He can also write raunchy, mischievous pieces that just play havoc with perceptions he's built up elsewhere. I suspect a sense of mischief at work in much of what he does, as well as a real passion for what he reveres (particularly Wales, on which he writes in the Guardian on alternate Saturdays - pick him up online!) One of my favourite pieces here is about my home town and called "Propositioned in Portland" - it's a ballsy little comic masterpiece, and let me tell you, it gets the place like no-one else has done before or since. I liked the guy when I met him years back, and I like him even better now that I've read him years on. There's not much better travel writing come out of Britain in recent years than this. You could take him anywhere (and it would probably end in mayhem!)
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on 27 September 2009
I walk, I climb therfore I am. I first came across Jim Perrin when a friend lent me his Snowdonia book and it blew me away. I've read most of his stuff since and recommend that you do the same. He's one of those rare people who think the right thing, defend the right thing and do the right thing. I can't fault this guy at all (maybe not as good a climber as Don). Hell, he was even a shepheard in Cwm Pennant down the road from me so I'm biased. Got to say, he's more erudite than the hippie on the cover with a pint but what do I know? Suberb collection of travel tales with his beloved Flea. This is up there with Newby and Raban. Enjoy.
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on 19 March 2013
I bought this book because my husband likes Jim Perrin's style of writing and I thought he would find it interesting. Neither of us has read it yet.
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