Just as Well I’m Leaving by Michael Booth — New Review

My ‘reread reviews’ have finally caught up with my ‘new reviews’, which means I’m allowed to pick new books to read, that aren’t dictated by my book club! (I realise that permission to break this self-imposed rule is unnecessary and a little ridiculous: that’s just the way my brain works.) I was excited to pick Michal Booth because, as well as being a present from another Michael, I absolutely loved his book Sushi and Beyond. I’ve read a number of his books since, trying to find that same level of delight in his writings about other places, cultures and foods. I’ve mostly been unsuccessful, which does make me wonder whether perhaps that one book was exactly that, a one-off. I was especially doubtful at the beginning of Just As Well I’m Leaving, because Michael Booth seemed pretty dour about not only his location, but the main topic of the book: Hans Christian Andersen.

I was on my own, with only my unflinching resolve to fall back on.
I gave up.

Just as Well I’m Leaving, Michael Booth

Things did pick up once Booth started reading some of Andersen’s stories, realising that there was more to be enjoyed in the originals than in whatever English translations he’d previously come across. Which did, of course, make me want to seek out a decent translation myself. As with Charlotte Street, the slightly whiny beginning gave way to a better middle and end, even if Just as Well I’m Leaving doesn’t reach the height of Sushi and Beyond (which I need to reread, now, in case it’s not the book but my memory that’s responsible).

Without a companion to whinge at and bore with his various ailments and fears, he seems to have just got on with things and coped so much better; by looking outward at the world, he found a brief inner peace.

Just as Well I’m Leaving, Michael Booth

Having read a number of Michael Booth’s books now, I’d say Just as Well I’m Leaving falls solidly in the middle of the pack. It’s better than Eat, Pray, Eat and The Almost Nearly Perfect People, not as good as Sushi and Beyond, at about the same level as Doing Without Delia, albeit on rather a different subject matter. There’s not much food in Just as Well I’m Leaving, which is perhaps the problem for me, as what I enjoyed most about Sushi and Beyond was the descriptions of Japanese chefs and restaurants. But I do like fairy tales, so Just as Well I’m Leaving managed to hold my interest, and I learned a great deal about Hans Christian Andersen that I wouldn’t otherwise have known. It also got me thinking about travel, which I haven’t done much of lately, so I can give it an extra half star for that.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J Maarten Troost — Reread Review

I dimly recall finding The Sex Lives of Cannibals funny the first time I read it. This time, I was mostly annoyed by J Maarten Troost’s self-declared lack of work ethic. Over two years leaving on an equatorial atoll, he claims he wanted to write a novel, and yet no novel was written. Perhaps I was primed for annoyance, having already wanted to tick off Osborne in Wives and Daughters for finding a life of work so completely impossible.

On the positive side, I still found The Sex Lives of Cannibals interesting. Most types of travel writing, I assume, make readers want to actually visit the places described. Certainly, that’s been my experience with Bill Bryson and Michael Boothe. But J Maarten Troost makes it abundantly clear that living in Kiribati is awful. The food situation is dire, the heat is unbearable and even the occasionally mentioned moments of vivid colour do not make it seem like a holiday to Kiribati would be fun.

Evening light descended, and as we walked through the village the air itself began to assume pink and blue hues. The dinner hour approached and fires were lit and the smoke settled over the village as a fine mist, capturing the soft light of sunset.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals, J Maarten Troost

And yet, despite all this, The Sex Lives of Cannibals is light, easy reading. While I probably won’t seek out more books by J Maarten Troost, if I were given one (as I was given this one, actually), I wouldn’t throw it away unread!

Rating: 2 out of 5.

When it comes to naming things, vanity and flattery are dull motivations best suited for deciding on a child’s middle name. Much more interesting are the descriptive names that suggest a story or happening of interest. Captain Cook was pretty good about this. From him, we have Cape Good Success, Cape Deceit, Cape Desolation, Adventure Cove, Devil’s Basin, Great Black Rock and Little Black Rock, all in Tierra Del Fuego, names that suggest that rounding Cape Horn in the late eighteenth century was probably a fairly up and down experience.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals, J Maarten Troost

Incidentally, the cannibals of the title are not humans but dogs. Even knowing this, I had to seriously consider whether ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals‘ was a title I felt comfortable telling my new team-member Caitlin that I was reading this week!

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn — New Review

The Salt Path was a gift from a friend who knows I collect and read books with lighthouses on the cover, and wasn’t the kind of book I’d usually pick up to read. The premise — a married couple, one of whom is diagnosed with a terminal illness, and who have lost their house, decide to walk the South West Coast Path — sounded like it was going to be self-consciously uplifting, which tends to grate on me.

“You’ll see many things, amazing things and suffer many set-backs, problems you’ll think you can’t overcome.” He reached forward and put his hand on Moth. “But you will overcome them, you’ll survive, and it will make you strong.” We looked at each other, wide-eyed, mouthing a silent ‘what?’. “And you’ll walk with a tortoise.”

The Salt Path, Raynor Winn

In actual fact, The Salt Path was more boring than anything else. While there are some nice descriptions of coastal scenes, nothing really happens. Ray and Moth walk, they camp, they eat and then they walk again. There’s some social commentary about homelessness, infrequent and brief meetings with other walkers, and just not a great deal else. It wasn’t bad — it was neither as grating or as depressing as it could have been, given the subject matter — but neither was it engaging. I found subject changes between one topic and another quite abrupt, and never really felt there was much point to anything.

The Salt Path did, at times, remind me of G K Chesterton’s The Rolling English Road, but that is both a quicker read and – in my opinion – a better one.

Next, I’ll be reading The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen.

Rating: 1 out of 5.