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Well written but rather aimless
on 3 January 2004
An interesting history of how the author ended up in the UK and how he came to love crosswords, rightly described as a quintessential English pastime.
Where the book falls down is in the drift of the autobiographical element. We learn virtually nothing of Balfour's girlfried, despite the subtitle of the book being "A memoir of love..." and there is little to give a real feel for the sort of man that Balfour is. Indeed I was left with no feeling that I knew the author with anything more depth than some sort of stereotype of a Guardian-reading TV producer.
The other weakness of the book is in its devotion to the Guardian crossword. Those who are devotees of other papers' puzzles (i.e. Times, Telegraph, FT, Indy etc) may well feel slightly left out. There must have been interesting material in examining how the crosswords do or do not reflect the character of the papers that carry them (Telegraph generally facile, but highly Ximenean, Times a rather odd case of Olde England in the Murdoch empire?). The accounts of meeting setters are highly interesting, but might well have been complemented with a better feel for who our fellow solvers are.
The above criticisms notwithstanding the book probably is a must for any crossword-lover. And Balfour is correct, Bust down reason (9) is a very fine clue.