Author: Bill Bryson
Publisher: Transworld Publishers
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While tour companies and guides may offer highly informative knowledge about travel, Bill Bryson uses witty, stirring and insightful descriptions to transport the reader on a beautiful yet carefully tight-on-the-pocket journey across Europe in his second travel book – Neither here Nor there. Bryson retraces the places he visited as a student twenty years ago and illustrates an entertaining and engaging account about his backpacking trip coupled with interesting, if not funnily stereotypical, observations about the people and cultural aspects he encounters. The most distinguishing characteristic of this book is the individualistic interpretations and comments as a foreign tourist- there is hardly any attempt to converse with locals or extensive research carried out about each place.
His journey starts as a mistaken Brent Bjornson on a bus to Oslo with “seats surely designed by dwarfs seeking revenge” and eventually continues to the majestic Paris where pedestrian lights are suspiciously planned to kill foreign tourists, and the utterly disordered Rome where its people wrongly seem as if they could kill each other at any moment. He visits key cities in Europe, not necessarily in a structured fashion or with any rational thoughts. In fact, most of the decisions taken throughout the trip are spontaneous and exciting! Bryson depicts the simplest of grievances and situations in such a humorous manner, that a reader is consistently amused at Europeans being unintentionally hilarious.
Readers may find Bryson superficial, disparaging and offensive but the appealing element is his ability to portray people and places without a filter guarding them; and just remain plain straightforward and candid in his writing. He doesn’t hesitate to change his mind about places that didn’t live up to or exceeded his expectations while bestowing praise on the unlikeliest of locations. Furthermore, the reader can get exasperated with Bryson because he literally can whine about every hotel accommodation available. Until it dawns on the reader that this exactly what travelling is about! It isn’t only the striking scenery or the remarkable museums but the struggle of comfort, communication and choice which makes the travel complete.
Bryson does demonstrate an inability to come to terms with any food and culture that isn’t his own. However, trying to be too critical about the stereotypical American tourist that he seems to behave like would demean the essential nature of this book! It is meant to capture the essence of the peculiarities of travel and grant a giddy enjoyment of travelling to another country where you don’t know the language or understand the culture. Don’t take the book seriously, and you will enjoy it.