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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 10 June 2017
I remember the cricket match being read out loud to me as a boy and reading it sixty years later it is still as amusing. Some wonderful observations about the English - funny as well as pointed. A wonderful read.
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on 9 October 2015
Good
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on 16 January 2013
What a pleasure it was to re-read this wonderful novel.

The basic premise is that Donald Cameron, having been wounded towards the end of the First World War, inherits a modest estate from his late father, but only on condition that he stays out of his native Scotland for at least eleven months of every year until he reaches the age of fifty. Forced to relocate to London, Donald undertakes a study of the English as a race, having previously been warned that their two most important national traits were the sacrosanct nature of team spirit, and a reverence for Lord Nelson.

As he wanders through English life Donald is nonplussed by the English whom he rapidly identifies as a race wracked by internal conflict - the most courteous, kind and charming people can, without any warning, occasionally (and more or less without warning) demonstrate the most heinous meanness, cruelty and spite, to be followed by the most painful remorse and generous amends.
Author MacDonell obviously loves the English as his character Donald, whom he treats to a serious of hilarious experiences. The chapter devoted to the village cricket match in which a bewildered Donald participates has been frequently anthologised elsewhere, and is to my mind the finest and funniest writing about the game ever. Even people with no love for the game can seldom fail to be won over by the glorious chapter in which he evokes a Corinthian spirit and rural idyll that possibly never existed and was certainly long gone by 1933 when McDonnell wrote this. In another chapter Donald is taken to an exclusive golf course where he meets an old comrade from back home in Buchan who has carved out a niche as the club professional, a role which he plays to the maximum adopting the role of curmudgeonly Jock, much to the delight of the posh member s who congratulate themselves on knowing how to deal with "a real character". Needless to say, Cameron, with his hickory-shafted clubs, emerges victorious against the suburbanites despite their expensive clubs and fashionable accessories, though equally true to form they all pay up without hesitation or regret.

Later in the year he goes to the annual "varsity rugby match" at Twickenham, one of the great social events of the year. As it happens the match takes place in the midst of regular London pea-souper, so no-one can see a thing. However, everyone has a jolly good time regardless, and a huge amount of wine is still consumed.

Light-heaterd throughout, there are enough unexpected twists to prevent the novel form falling into predictability, and MacDonell's prose is beautifully crafted.

Well worth reading!
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VINE VOICEon 21 September 2014
I was introduced to this book by my French teacher many years ago. It's a great piece of English literature that goes the length and breadth of the country after the First World War. it shows the devastation and sadness left after that war- no one is unaffected by it, and all classes of society are heavily affected by it. It's a great book appreciating the depth of loss and the grief involved- but also showing how people are adapting and coming through after it. The writing is excellent with enough description to show what is happening, and with that classic English humorous understatement that encapsulates, and appreciates, a lot of emotion, without feeling a need to go fully into it.

This is a book you'll come away richer for having read. You'll also laugh a lot on the way.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 December 2012
When this book was written, it was one of many similar attempts to come to terms with the new post-War, post Victorian England. It has survived because it is, indeed, wittily written and in the English are very fond of laughing at themselves. I have read it 3 times and laughed every time, but I would be wary of recommending it as a Great Comic Novel as I feel it will appeal only to readers with the particular kind of sense of humour which also appreciates PG Wodehouse.

There is a further history to this book though. While it was popular as a comic novel when first published, its particular take on Englishness - that combination of sentimentality and irony which always taps unerringly into the English nerve-endings - gave it a new life in the dark days of the Second World War; something McDonald cannot have imagined when he was writing. Anyone who has seen the films produced during the war (NOT the war films made afterwards, when we knew we had won, but the ones made to keep up morale when the outcome was still very uncertain) will recognise the same mood which comes across in many of them. The ones which come to mind particularly are those of Powell and Pressburger, such as A Canterbury Tale [DVD] and Life and Death of Colonel Blimp [Special Edition] [DVD] [1943] I have no doubt some of these filmes were influenced by the book. It was re-issued in 1941 by the Reprint Society, and if you want a copy to keep, it's worth looking for this non-virtual edition with its characterful illustrations by John Evans. Reading it with the Second World War in mind, it is quite clear that it would have had considerable propaganda and morale value.

Although the author was no doubt unaware of it, it is a deeply chauvinistic book, albeit mostly in a good way. And to be fair, he is as good at laughing at his own Scottishness as he is at his English neighbours. But I suspect many modern readers will fail to "get" it. So I'm not saying that it's not funny, nor that there aren't nuggets of exquisite observation amongst the more obvious humour. It's a well-known fact that humour is very personal, and what has one reader rolling on the floor will make another cringe. And there is more to this book, some of it relying on instincts in the reader which are no all of them good. It plays on the same sensilbilities as does a modern reading of Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, 1942: Reproduced from the Original Typescript, War Department, Washington, DC (Instructions for Servicemen)
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on 15 February 2013
Quite simply the funniest book I have ever read. The village cricket match is a classic in the English Language. I have loaned three copies of this book to friends and never got one back! Now I have it on my kindle and it goes where I go. I first read it when I was fifteen years old, more than sixty years ago, and it still makes me laugh out loud.
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on 26 August 2015
Please note. This is a review of England their England, not the Pawns of Death.

I once knew a young Australian who came to England full of praise for Eton and Harrow, rented a flat in Cheyne Walk and took up hunting. For all I know he also enjoyed woodcock and Nuits Saint Georges, though he was hampered by lack of funds and contacts. Perhaps his homework included reading this book. It brought to mind a comment I read in a book called Anglo-Australian Attitudes along the lines that the Australian perception of England is of "a country which simply doesn't exist". Although Macdonell's journey in this book takes us from the trenches, which he endured as a subaltern, to Winchester, which he enjoyed while at school there, much of it is overdone, not particularly amusing and inevitably rather dated. It is not the world of his contemporary, George Orwell, nor as amusing as PG Wodehouse. And his vision of Scotland is that of Alexander McCall Smith (and I suspect Compton Mackenzie and Eric Linklater) and not of Ian Rankin. Yet Macdonnell was an outsider, a Raj Orphan of Scottish origin, educated in an insulated academy, and relatively able to take a humorous and detached view of the idiosyncrasies of a small segment of English society. He concentrates on a land of "weekend cottages, Mansions, Manors, Granges, Towers, Courts, Halls and Abbeys" rather than industrial terraces and bungaloid growth. And whether at the time he wrote his book the English hated being "ragged about team spirit in cricket" or Lord Nelson, I'm not sure. They certainly don't now

But really, I ought to relax. This is not only a humorous book, it is also ironic and tongue in cheek. He does not set out to write like Orwell.
And the book certainly has its good points. For example I was heartened by the author's clear preference for association football rather than rugby. I found the political hustings amusing and the Hull-Danzig boat trip, too. I was taken by his description of the then idyllic Vale of Aylesbury, though I doubt if you would hear "an almost unintelligible Buckinghamshire accent" now. Yes, as I say, the book is dated. A reference to "a queer silence broken only by the gay greetings" might raise eyebrows today, as would a parson who "avoids films or skirts" but is "as happy as happy" with "the Scouts, Boys' Brigade or YMCA". But underlying all this there is a serious side. You can detect his anger about the First World War, and unemployment and his dislike of hunting and of various English attitudes. But somehow I was disappointed. I'd heard so much about the book, but it wasn't quite what I'd expected.
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on 18 July 2013
I do not understand why no publisher has come to the idea of collating MacDonell's newspaper articles and publishing them.
He has a good eye and a great sense of humour. Where are such writers now, when we need them?
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on 12 April 2013
Famous for its description of a cricket match in a Sussex village, this novel is throughout both witty and perceptive, though the England it depicts is, sadly in most respects, no longer with us
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on 7 July 2013
a golden oldie - but still the best. Request for more words by Amazon is far too much and deters me from leaving further reviews.
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