Review: Icons of England, Bill Bryson

Rating: 2 out of 5

I was tricked. That can’t be right, can it? Well… It’s my fault obviously, but I still feel as if I was tricked by this book. What I thought was that Good Mr Bryson had gone on a new jolly around England, discovering the best of the sights that one should see. What I didn’t expect was a loose compendium of essays about some writers’ favourite places. As I said, I tricked myself more than anything by not reading the blurb. Oh well…

So, what’s wrong with this set of stories? The easy answer is that it’s mostly okay. However… I feel that the purpose of this book—to highlight the beauty of the countryside—would have been served better not by finding a group of writers and asking them to write, but rather going to places and speaking to people there about why they lived there or visited there (or, indeed, asking those people to write).

When writers write, they write. The purpose, even when they are trying to describe the beauty and value of a place, will still be to write—as opposed to some local speaking genuinely from their heart, the writer’s words are considered, polished. For me, the rough countryside (as much of England is though very few of these writers chose such places to ponder on) deserves a more genuine expression.

Therefore, I found more of the writers’ than of the countryside in this book. I like its goal; I like the English countryside; but I did not like this book.

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