Review published on November 15, 2017.
For ‘a small island to which no one pays any attention’, Britain is, as Oliver Tearle points out in his introduction to Britain by the Book, ‘teeming with interesting literary stories’. As the home to Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Austen, Tolkien et al., Britain is a literary nation, but Tearle’s fascinating tome shows it’s not just London that boasts a rich cultural writerly history, nor should the Lake District be seen as the birthplace of Romanticism and Stratford-Upon-Avon has a little-known author to rival the town’s leading literary son, Shakespeare. Think you know all there is to the geography of British literature, think again.
Beginning at the northerly most point in Scotland and navigating down the length and breadth of Britain, Tearle tells some of the most surprising and intriguing anecdotes about various locales and their literary claims to fame. From Bath and Bournemouth to Knutsford and Chalfont St Giles, the book shapes a truly eye-opening map of Britain, and whilst each of the short chapters offers something fascinating to delve into what is particularly nice is to read up about those places that are closest to home. Indeed, places on your doorstep, that you may think you know well, are given new significance with Tearle’s impressive factualising, and you’ll likely come away from the book with a list of places to visit.
You’ll also come away with a much more formidable knowledge of literary trivia, steeped as these pages are in the lesser known histories of Britain’s literary past and some absolutely classic literary facts, including where and of whom you can find the largest monument to a writer in the world and from which poet the ship the Cutty Sark took its name. There is no way you can read this book and not discover something you didn’t know or pick up a fact or several. But this isn’t some dry, heavy-going commentary. Tearle is both a university lecturer in English and a prolific blogger and as such he merges the authority and expertise of his profession with a very engaging and interactive writing style that makes for a superbly accessible and entertaining read. Indeed, he manages brilliantly to combine masses of substance with an easy-going style and wit that is perfect for the subject matter.
For me, this is a real gem of a book and, if nothing else, if anyone ever tries to catch me out by asking ‘what’s another word for thesaurus?’, I’ll have my answer ready: synonymicon. That’ll keep any would-be smart alecs quiet.
Jade Craddock 5/-
Britain by the Book by Oliver Tearle
John Murray 9781473666016 hbk Nov 2017
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