#ReadersResources: Read across the UK part II

A little while ago, Debs wrote a cracking post on Reading across the UK. We still need to agree a date for this, but I thought I might follow up with some further suggestions. Being naturally contrary, I’ve decided to present mine by genre…

Science Fiction

As might be expected, I’ve chosen to kick off with science fiction. Whether or not you enjoyed the film version with Tom Cruise (2005) or a repeat of Orson Welles’ (1938) panic inducing radio adaptation, you might not know, or may have forgotten that H.G. Wells’ classic War of the Worlds is set in the Home Counties around London. The description of the terrain – and the subsequent destruction of most of it – is beautifully evocative. I’m tempted to start running tours of some of the locations mentioned.

Similarly, the Day of the Triffids is worth your time. John Wyndham’s depiction of a world brought low by hubris and dubious experiments takes in a swathe of ground between London and the South Coast, not to mention the bastion of the Isle of Wight.

J.G. Ballard’s Drowned World sees London semi-submerged in a future where climate change has reeked havoc. Any day that is to hot for my liking makes me think of this book.

Detective Fiction

In the comments to Debs’ original post I mentioned Ian Sansom’s County Guides series. He’s going to have to pick up the pace if he’s going to manage to get round the whole of the UK, but so far the five published books give an interesting perspective on 1930s England, particularly bits that are not often looked at. The conceit here is that a prolific author is off collecting research material with his daughter and assistant for a series of books cataloguing the best bits of Britain, especially the things that are likely to fade in the face of technology and social change. Of course, they court disaster wherever they go. The assistant is, of course, plagued by demons: in this instance they arise from his time in Spain as part of the International Brigade.

The British Library has recently (over the last decade perhaps?) been republishing classic detective fiction, much of which has a locale element to it. So for example there is The Hogsback Mystery by Freeman Wills Croft and starring Inspector French. There are several others with this detective, and whilst he occasionally makes a foray abroad he is a Scotland Yard man at a time when local constabularies would call upon the Yard if they felt a case was a bit too much for them for whatever reason. So whilst a lot of French’s cases are set in and around London, he also travels extensively around the UK.

I’m also going to put in a shout for The Thirty-Nine Steps, even if it is not properly Detective Fiction. Whichever film version you’ve seen, the book is sufficiently different and exciting that it is worth your trouble to look it out and give it a read. Some lovely descriptions of Scotland in there, as well as the South Coast.

Non-fiction

I thought it might also be helpful to put in some non-fiction suggestions too. In this regard one cannot really go wrong with Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson. I’m less enamored of the follow up, The Road to Little Dribbling: to my mind, the Bryson who wrote the second book has become a grumpy old man and has lost some of the shine and verve of the younger Bryson – but that is just my opinion. There are still some splendid observations.

Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers by Peter Fiennes is, on the face of it, a bit niche. A description of walks around stomping grounds associated with particular writers. It is so much more though. Twelve mini-biographies which focus on a particular period of time or a particular piece of work by some of the greatest British authors of the last two hundred years or so, and how the landscape had an impact on their work. Beautiful.

Finally, this one really is niche, and is all about London, but is so joyous that you need to read it. Tim Moore’s Do Not Pass Go is, primarily, about Monopoly. Or is it? Sure that’s the framing narrative, in particular his carrying a board and some dice around so that he can work out where he’s going next, but this is, in a way, more of a socio-geographic history of London, and the changes that have occurred leading up to the London version of Monopoly, and those that have occurred since. Moore takes us around London, set by set, and explains the hidden meanings behind some of the collections – for example, Orange is the colour of justice… He even goes in search of Free Parking.

Do add your suggestions of potential reading material for future editions of Read Across the UK.

©David Jesson, 2021

3 thoughts on “#ReadersResources: Read across the UK part II”

  1. Pedant’s Corner 🙂 ‘reeked’ = wrought.

    A very interesting take on the theme. One might add Dorothy L. Sayer’s ‘Five Red Herrings’ set in Scotland where all the locations are authentic (or at least were!).

    E.C.R. Lorac is another author who has a Scotland Yard detective visiting various parts of the country from Devon to the Fell country.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pedant tennis – surely ‘reeked’ ≠ ‘wrought’ – wreaked is the word I was searching for :0)

      Like

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