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Didn't quite work for me
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.