Originally published 25 years ago in the U.K., this travelogue recounts the author’s time in Australia in the mid-1980s. Jacobsen, a 2010 Booker Award winner Jacobson (for The Finkler Question), certainly knows how to turn a phrase. His probing descriptions often capture the splendor of first encounters, as when he describes the Margaret River estuary: “I like the idea of waters meeting, a current having its way against a tide.... If the sea is death then an estuary is a way of dying of peaceably.” As an outsider, Jacobson excels at capturing the idiosyncrasies of life Down Under and astutely delves into the downtrodden yet esteemed place that Aboriginals command among Australia’s white society. Known for his comic writing, Jacobson indeed works best with a light tone. Regrettably here, many gags create the impression of an imperialist poking fun at the colonials for the amusement of those back home. Jacobson, a novelist at heart, likes to control the story and place himself front and center, but is at his best when he steps aside—following his wife on her return home to Perth, or when their would-be safari guide drags them willy-nilly around the Northern Australian bush. It is then that he discovers the real Oz and the work becomes worthy of a writer of Jacobson’s ability. Agent: Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown (Dec.)
British author Jacobson, winner of the 2010 Booker Prize for The Finkler Question and the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for The Mighty Waltzer, wrote a travelog of his journey with his wife through Australia in the mid 1980s. Originally published in the UK in 1987, this is the first U.S. edition. While it's been almost 30 years since the book was originally written, it remains a classic, entertaining read. It's cleverly and engagingly written, although, to be fair, Australians and others familiar with Australia might find the material a bit dated. Jacobson provides a picture of Australia from the point of view of the intrepid traveler, encountering Mad Max-like bikers in the middle of nowhere and even rescuing a domestic dog from dingoes. This is without a doubt a humorous read, but Jacobson occasionally comes across as a bit critical, making it hard for the reader to remember that this is a country the author loves. Additionally, Jacobson's observations of racism and descriptions of ethnic groups, while perhaps a reflection of the time, may concern readers. VERDICT While it has minor problems, this title is recommended for anyone who enjoys travel writing.—Louise Feldmann, Colorado State Univ. Lib., Fort Collins
A sharp-eyed British traveler recalls his greatest adventure. Twenty-five years ago, accompanied by his Australian-born wife, Jacobson (Whatever It Is, I Don't Like It, 2012, etc.) journeyed far and wide by bus, car, train and camper around Australia, feeling, he admits "near anguish…the whole time I was there." "Potholes. Savage, twisting bends. Not enough room for more than 1 ½ cars in either direction," he complained about one long drive. "Thorny cork-screw trees….Extreme chromatic monotony. Gnarled, evil-tempered landscape," his wife replied. As Jacobson unhappily discovered, roads in the Outback were treacherous, when they existed at all, and a driver might well encounter a "mesmerized kangaroo" or marauding dingo along the way. "STAY WITH THE VEHICLE," the Royal Automobile Association warned. When a search party eventually is sent, the safety literature added, "vehicles will be far easier to find than isolated human beings in the vastness of the Outback landscape." As for the landscape, often it was bleak: dry, dusty, flat and barren. Some towns along the way had been gentrified, with tacky souvenir shops and kitschy restaurants. About Australians, Jacobson can be acerbic, especially when confronted with small-minded provincialism and racism directed at Aborigines. There were enough high points, though, to elicit his praise: "There is no more variously beautiful country," he finally admits: the orange hills and hidden valleys of Kununurra, for example, and Ayers Rock, described by one 19th-century traveler as "an immense pebble" but appearing to Jacobson "in every way more surprising" than what he expected. "Close up," he writes, "its texture is like the skin of an animal--creased and enfolded and a little weary, but also soft to the touch." Witty, at times self-deprecating, and always shrewdly observant, Jacobson offers a wry, revealing portrait of a land and its people.