Down Under, Bill Bryson

Bryson well and truly returns to form with this book on Australia. It is the best of the self-deprecating and exaggerated humour that won him his fans in the first place. But he also steers clear of overdoing the sermons on how places have changed – and never for the better when viewed through BrysonVision. This gives the book an affectionate and much lighter tone.

More than perhaps any of his previous books, this Australian effort can actually be used as a guide book to some degree. He certainly goes to some unusual and fascinating places while all the time emphasizing that this is merely scratching the surface of this vast continent.

Bryson is also not disingenuous by denying his celebrity status these days. Indeed, this affords him opportunities most travellers would not have but, because we have grown to like him, we don’t really resent his publisher helping him out here and there for the sake of a good story.

Everyone will have their favourite excerpts from this book – and the majority will probably involve some type of small, lethal insect (of which there are many). But for me, the memory that lingers is the sheer stupidity of some of the early explorers who would set off into the outback with no clue as to where they were going, or how long it would take to get there. It is our good fortune that Bryson gets an air-conditioned car, or one suspects he too would have returned a rambling madman.

Overall verdict: Bryson’s best since “The Lost Continent“.
NB: This book is published in the US as “In a Sunburned Country
Random House, 2001

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