Exotic Reading

Reading & Writing

When I travel I tend to read books with a more international flavour – it’s hard to immerse yourself in a thriller set in rainswept Berlin when you’re in 35 degrees of steam-heat.

This trip I read ‘Congo Journey’ by Redmond O’Hanlon, who is the Gerald Durrell of the maggots-and-malaria school of travel. This, his third outing, was marvellous in its description of wildlife (notably birds) and sinister portents but lacked any political background or overview, making it rather a one-note tale of travellers (one annoyingly English, one annoyingly American) blundering through the red tape and gruesome illnesses of the Congo in search of pygmies and a mythical lake monster. It ruins no endings to tell you they don’t find the latter.

I had delayed reading Mischa Berlinski’s ‘Fieldwork’ by two years. Every time I picked it up I was put off by the cover, which makes it look like a girlie romance set in foreign climes. In fact, the subject matter seems just as off-putting; Christian missionaries and anthropologists in Burma and Thailand. However, it’s structured like a thriller, and is all the more brilliant for being a debut novel. The hero goes searching for the reason why a young female anthropologist would have shot a missionary dead, and finds himself enmeshed in the lives of a gospel-preaching family of equally heartwarming and horrific proportions. This is a terrifically involving read, especially when dealing with unlikeable characters. My only cavil is the problem I have with many avowedly serious US novels; a surfeit of extraneous detail.

Don’t bother with ‘An Idiot Abroad’, Karl Pilkington’s cretinous view of seven world wonders which WH Smith is touting all over its Gruffalo-and-Mars-Bar-filled shelves; serves me right for picking it up.

7 comments on “Exotic Reading”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Speaking of exotic locales, I am currently reading ‘Beyond Belfast’ by Will Ferguson, a walking tour of The Ulster Way, which is about 450 miles of various forms of wet weather and fascinating people. It has lots of historical and economic background and often has me laughing out loud. It has very local maps, although it doesn’t show Ballymena in spite of mentioning it half a dozen times so far.
    ‘Fieldwork’ sounds like a good read in spite of the ‘surfeit of extraneous detail’.

  2. Gretta says:

    I recently read my first Colin Cotterill(Thirty-Three Teeth) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Steamy 1970s Ventiane setting aided by the fact that it has also been pretty steamy where I am. The constant thread of: “Hot isn’t it?” “Bloody hot” dialogue definitely struck a chord in 30degC-ish heat! Plus the characters were great fun, and you could ‘see’ the setting, which isn’t always possible with some novels. The plot trotted along at a good clip, although a glossary or some footnotes would have come in handy. Look forward to reading more of his work. Next stop Samoa(Inheritance by Jenny Pattrick).

    FYI, as a sort of student of Social Anthropology, I can give you any number of reasons why an Anthro would want to shoot a missionary! Can also completely understand why you would be put off by the thought of reading about Anthros. Barking mad, for the most part (yes, that is part of what attracts me to it).

    Am making a note of both Fieldwork and Beyond Ulster(thank you, admin and Helen).

  3. Gretta says:

    Beyond Belfast, I mean.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    At Bookcrossing last night we welcomed a visitor from Adelaide Australia. She explained that she was actually from the Shetland Isles and had partly moved for the improvement in climate, although when she left Scotland it was something like 23deg. and Adelaide was having its hottest summer ever with the temperature well over 40. She also brought us up to date on the Princes St. trams in Edinburgh. I saw the diggings in Sept. ’09 and she said that in Oct.’11 they were in exactly the same state. The main fashionable and tourist street in the city and they have left it for two years with portable fences, trenches and heavy machinery!
    Exotic locale means some place completely different to what you’re used to.

  5. Lisa Perry says:

    I really feel for Misha Berlinski. The girly cover has been a turn-off for me, too. Mayhaps I’ll try it.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Is it just the pastel background that makes it “girly” or is it the lack of tension as well?

  7. Gretta says:

    Covers do sell books, as well as putting people off them. I do wish publishers would realise that. I agree, it is a girly-ish cover. It makes me think of holiday reminiscences, or some sort of ‘loves lost’ thing. That would be enough to put me off, too.

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