Thursday, April 23, 2009

Another plug...

This is such a good book! Also, it's part of one of those trains of internet serendipity that I like so much when they happen.

I went to an expat website that's fairly useful and helpful but which I don't usually frequent very much, with a thought to suggest it as a place to promote Barry's exhibition (which was good, and, I think, successful for him. The pasties were also great...), and saw on their bookpage a new history of Brittany in English, so I went over to Amazon to see about it there, and in the 'people who bought that also bought this' bit, I saw this book, 'Bumping about Brittany'. It looked interesting, and had a couple of good reviews, so I ordered it. With the spring and all, I'm in something of a phase of wanting to get out more, and find out more about my surroundings.

It's 'a guide book with a difference,' according to the blurb ' a series of excursions into the cultural, physical and emotional heartland of Brittany' which is about right. Each chapter is a properly described and referenced walk, but that's just a starting point for a great wealth of history, folklore, geography, all leavened with hilarious, genuinely laugh-out-loud anecdote and humour. There are chapters on Roscoff pink onions, foraging for lunch on beaches, cider and other potions, Celtic saints, and much more besides.

It contains a lot of observations which we've ourselves made, but have never quite had confirmed, but beyond that, the author's knowledge of and insights into the region make me realise how barely I've scratched the surface when it comes to the place where I live.

Charles Davis is a walker and writer of walking guides who lives in Brittany; many of the places he covers are a in the western, Breton-speaking part of the region, rather than the Gallic bit where we live. His knowledge of the area clearly comes from both reading and speaking with people - his partner, Jeannette, is from Brittany, though they've lived all over the world. He clearly has a great curiosity and eye for detail, as well as a capacity to retain and organise it.

There's some concern that the print was too small, and it is a bit, but not enough to be distracting as far as I'm concerned. The photos look good but are too small and poorly presented to do them justice, which is a shame, and an index and a bibliography would have been good, but I gather authors don't have a lot of say in these things...

So, having obtained the book, I was annoying Tom by bursting out laughing at it at regular intervals, and thought I'd just google its author out of curiosity. This led me to his page on The Red Room, which invited me to 'contact this author', so I thought why not? To do so it turned out one needed to sign up to The Red Room, which turns out to be very interesting in itself, a centre on the web for writers both well- and lesser-known, including their blogs. Charles Davis' blog is as witty and self-deprecatingly ironic as his writing in the book, I'd recommend it(you don't need to sign up to the site to read).

For example, on the matter of the financial crisis, and how he always felt stupid about not understanding what it was exactly his acquaintances in finance were doing, or quite how money was being 'made' -

Be honest now. How many of you had the foggiest idea what these brokers and bankers and financiers and consultants and executives have been doing all these years to ‘make’ all this imaginary money? You didn’t have a clue, did you? You thought you were too stupid to understand. I bet you’re feeling better already. You weren’t stupid. It was all those utterly preposterous people with overdeveloped greed glands who were stupid. Admittedly, they’re a little less preposterous, possibly even less stupid, for having a few million quid secreted in the back pocket (kindly given to them by the government after they lost all their imaginary money), but they’re barely coherent as human beings otherwise. You and I may be getting poorer by the day thanks to their overactive imaginations, but it is deeply satisfying to know that we were right all along and ‘they’ were wrong. Got to look on the bright side.

Or on why he's a writer: among other things because

It takes me absolutely bloody dark ages to work out what I really think about something, and, often as not, I need to tell myself a story about a given subject before I know precisely what my values are and how they accord with the topic to hand. It’s sad, really, several hundred pages and I’ve produced what a pundit would toss off in a couple of pithy soundbites, but there you go.

He replied to my e-mail very promptly, and we had a bit of a chat. 'Bumping about Brittany', was written to order, he said, but he clearly warmed to the task. He had feared he might be required to write a ' a smug-brits-abroad-sniggering-at-the-funny-foreigners book', but it really isn't that. Though Breton culture is often the subject of his humour, so are British attitudes, (and also himself!). And it's the kind of amusement that comes from close familiarity and real affection, not ridicule. I'd like to quote some examples, but I fear I'm overrunning, and also, much of the appeal of it is how he builds up a picture and refers back. For that reason it's as good, if not better, an armchair read as it is a guidebook. And he can be more serious, lyrical and reflective too.

He has written two fiction books, 'Walking the Dog' and 'Walk on, Bright Boy'. I'm looking forward to reading them too, particularly the latter, with its themes of mediaeval Spanish history and Gnosticism, which are right up my street. It got a seriously rave review from the Independent too...

I like finding new things, hidden treasure, and it seems to me that when really good stuff is produced by clever people who aren't particularly well-known in the mainstream media, it's worthwhile giving them as much word of mouth as possible.


marja-leena said...

What a fabulous, in-depth review, Lucy! I too enjoy reading up about areas that I live in, or visit frequently... there's always something new to me. This one seems exceptional at many levels indeed.

Dick said...

I'd better get this read before we hit Dinard in August. I loved the acid irony of the extract on matters financial.

Bee said...

I wonder if he would be interested in Bumping Around Berkshire? You make Davis's writing/observances sound incredibly appealing.

Sorry that I have been MIA. I just got on the computer again for the first time in weeks, and it will probably take me ages to catch up with everyone. I just wanted you to know, though, that I've posted some pics of Texas bluebonnets. I remember that you wondered about them (from last year's TX visit).

herhimnbryn said...

Thankyou for this Lucy.

Sheila said...

Fun, fun, all around! What a wonderful bunch of connections. I'm going to get the book with the renewed hope of coming over there one of these days.

Roderick Robinson said...

Checked out the author's website and found he admitted to being influenced by R. C. Hutchinson, an author I read in my extreme youth. "That makes us a coterie of two," I thought as I Googled Hutchinson only to find (via Google's new hit counter) that his entry in Wikipedia has accumulated 1m hits. One of those strange moments that only the Internet can bring about - the leap from being part of (an imagined) tiny minority into a sort of humdrum huge-ish crowd.

I'm glad you found a Brit who does Brittany (or anywhere in France, for that matter) justice. Most of the ones I've glanced at, imagining themselves to have a hand on the Peter Mayle faucet, qualify for that wonderfully dismissive adjective débile. Needless to say I'm talking about book authors, here. You must surely be coming up for a Légion d'Honneur for your services to Marianne.

Michelle said...

" ... Roscoff pink onions, foraging for lunch on beaches, cider and other potions, Celtic saints, and much more besides." Lovely!

I'm at the Red Room too, Lucy. See you there!