No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, May 01, 2005

#41: To The Baltic With Bob -- Griff Rhys Jones

According to the blurb there are 'at least three good jokes on every page".

Oh no there aren't ...

I grew up watching Griff Rhys Jones in Not the Nine O'Clock News. I'm not sure that really qualifies him, even in my mind, to write a travel book -- but, flipping through it in the bookshop, To The Baltic With Bob did seem to contain some evocative descriptions of fair-weather sailing in the Baltic.

Quite a bit of the book is taken up with petty on-board squabbling and trips ashore in search of Local Colour. (Where is the rule that says this is infallibly interesting? Yes, there are fascinating people everywhere, but often the story of meeting them is rather thin.) GRJ seems to dwell on the mishaps. Early on, he says he's terrified by the prospect of boredom, and that long-distance sailors love it when something goes wrong: "otherwise it's just sea". I don't get this. Isn't the point of sailing -- especially sailing in a beautiful 1950s yacht, 'the Chippendale of boats' -- to appreciate the sound of wind and water, the silence, the emptiness, the absence of Civilisation?

It's a shame he doesn't spend more time describing the actual sailing: the passage about night sailing from Gothenburg to Elsinore is evocative enough to make me shiver, and there are some beautiful descriptions of the Turku archipelago and of yacht-racing in Germany. GRJ's love of (or, perhaps, 'masochistic affair with') sailing stems from long grey weekends spent on the Essex coast as a child, and from reading too much Arthur Ransome at an impressionable age: he's good with the introspection, too. But the rest of the book -- with the exception of Bob, who sounds irritating but delightful -- is rather flabby and repetitive.

Made me want to go sailing, though.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

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