The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain
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The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  2,128 ratings  ·  110 reviews
After eleven years as an American living in London, the renowned travel writer Paul Theroux set out to travel clockwise around the coast of Great Britain to find out what the British were really like. The result is this perceptive, hilarious record of the journey. Whether in Cornwall or Wales, Ulster or Scotland, the people he encountered along the way revealed far more of...more
ebook, 368 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by Mariner Books (first published 1983)
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Andrew
Mar 10, 2008 Andrew rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: travelers, walkers, anglophiles, appreciators of florid description
Recommended to Andrew by: Bill Bryson, Rick Steves
Shelves: travel
I struggled to get through this one. Theroux came highly recommended by other travel writers, Bill Bryson and Rick Steves, so I was very disappointed. As the quotes below reveal, Paul Theroux has a gift for the beautiful turn-of-phrase and is occasionally insightful. However, far too much of "The Kingdom by the Sea" was filled with boring and highly repetitive material. I'll boil this down to two key gripes.

1. Theroux's book follows him on trip around the British coastline. He makes a commitment...more
Shelley
In The Kingdom by the Sea, Theroux sets out to explore, mostly by foot, the coastline of perhaps the most well-traveled country on earth, Great Britain—a place where “nothing was unknown…just variously interpreted” (77). An American who spent eleven years living in London and speaks with a muted British accent himself, Theroux is in a unique position to write a UK travel memoir; he’s simultaneously an insider and an outsider, both familiar with the culture and self-consciously Other. And it’s fr...more
martin
It's always initially difficult to see one's country through the eyes of a foreigner and this was my first attempt. Sadly, I chose badly as this is a book where I kept on wondering why he bothered to complete what seemed to be even for him a thankless and depressing endeavour.

To misuse a title from another book, this Beautiful Room is Empty. The use of language is often impressive and thought-provoking but language is like a picture frame - no matter how wonderful, it can not mask a weak paintin...more
Caleb
I'm trying to figure why I like Paul Theroux travelogues quite so much. The guy is bluntly a dick at times and craps on places for no apparent reason. Yet I found his writing insightful, his adventures fascinating, and his conclusions illuminating. Here, he traveled clockwise around the coast of the UK, covering England, Wales, then Northern Ireland, then back for Scotland and the rest of England. He did this in the summer of 1982, as the Falkland Wars raged, Prince William was born, and England...more
Cass
Paul Theroux writes about his travels around the coast of Britain. This book is highly regarded but I really didn't feel it.

The book could be summarised quite easily. Theroux gets off a train and looks for a nice place to stay. He is the only guest and the owners tell him it will be busy when the tourist season starts. The room is horrible and the owners inhospitable, he leaves as soon as he possibly can. The town is deserted and the few things that are open are unimpressive. He picks up his bag...more
Bob Draben
Paul Theroux wrote this book after living in England for several years. To prepare for the book, he decided to follow the coastline around Britain traveling clockwise, and to include Norther Ireland. He made this trip in 1982, traveling by foot, bus, and train.

His goal was to tell his readers what the British are really like. He has a real gift for getting people to talk to him and includes lots of quotations from his many conversation with British people. The account seems an honest one. At tim...more
Bruce
I’ve never before read anything by Paul Theroux. And I’ve never before read anything quite like this book. After eleven years of living in London, and having seen little of the rest of Great Britain, Theroux decided to spend about three months traveling - by foot, by train, by bus if necessary - around the coast of the island and Northern Ireland. Apparently not a person to travel laden with romantic illusions, he is clear-eyed and inquisitive, intent on seeing the real nature of the country and...more
Donna
I enjoyed Theroux’s journey around the coastal perimeter of Great Britain, even though the prose became very repetitive and droning at times. He is particularly adept at characterizing the myriad of interesting people that he encountered as he walked, took the train, jumped on buses, or hitchhiked his way through a dazzling array of tiny hamlets, picturesque villages, and dreary towns. He seems to have a rather bleak view of most of the places he visited. I took this with a large grain of salt (...more
Carrie
Theroux manages to make Britain seem like the most dismal country on the planet. While he was traveling during the 80s, I can definitely say that some of the places he described either aren't that way now, or weren't given a fair shake. And he seems to seek out the miserable, spending mere paragraphs on places like Edinburgh. He deliberately avoids castles and anything most travelers would visit. While I understand not wanting to make the whole book a tour of castles and museums, the things he d...more
Judy
This book had a particular resonance for me. Firstly, because I find reading Paul Theroux's travel writing is like breathing rarefied air. And secondly, because having lived and travelled fairly extensively in the United Kingdom for just seven years I am no less fascinated with the place and people than the day I arrived.

The book seems to highlight the fact that a newcommer is not likely ever to get to understand the people very well, but could possibly add to one's catalogue of the variety of...more
Jim
One of my all time favourite travel books, Theroux takes his jaded eyes around the coast of Thatcher's Britain at the time of the Falklands conflict. His favourite spot is the remotest corner of Scotland where the sight of sheep stranded on a deserted beach sandbank as the tide comes in,leaving them to drown, warms the cockles of his heart. If only those sheep had been Aberdonians (his least favourite town). Theroux concludes more or less that there's not a lot to like in Britain, really, which...more
Kirstin
The concept is good: walking and taking transit around the coast of Britain, while examining the people, culture and general society throughout. But Theroux seems to have such a negative and cynical outlook on what he sees that you come away thinking Britain is an incredibly depressing place.

Which it is not! I've been to Northern England and stayed in two of the towns that Theroux passes through, and the country is not nearly as dirty and depressing as he makes it out to be.

The biggest frustrat...more
Adobe
God, I hated this. I wanted to give up when I was halfway through, but some sick sense of perseverance compelled me to finish it.

I picked this up originally because I rather like travelogues; I didn't realize that Theroux is famous for the grim, bitter unhappiness of his travel writing (Theroux's theory is that "a lot of travel is misery and delay").

The problem is that Theroux never manages to make this misery and delay interesting. It's just tedious -- a hundred pages in, and you may be wonde...more
Parvathy
Theroux is a delight. Traveling around the coast of England in the '80s... during the Falklands war, the railway strike, Thatcherite depression...Theroux observes an England slowly becoming obsolete. Curmudgeonly and surly he can be, but never uninteresting. His take-down of the English brings a smile every time... But his more generous observations about the Welsh, Scots and the Irish are equally fun. The book feels a bit dated, true. But as a travelogue, truly one of the best I have read.
Nancy
I just had to stop in the middle. I couldn't bear to read any more putdowns and sad commentary on the British. This author has some serious issues going on that are causing him to have such a negative take on those around him and life in general.

Too bad because he does a good job of the research into the places he goes, but his relationships with the people he observes are so reflective of his own emotional state, it sad. I'm going to have to hang it up on any more of his books.
Bev Hankins
Random thoughts on The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux which was chosen primarily to fulfill "Non-Fiction &/or Travel" requirements for a few challenges--and because I'd heard about Theroux and his books before and thought it might be interesting:

Just starting out...I'm wondering why Theroux bothered to do a walking (well, mostly walking, but sometimes taking a train) tour of Britain and then write about it. He doesn't really seem enamored with England. He doesn't really seem to be enjoyi...more
Julie
I was feeling pretty ok about the whole book until I read this line on page 297: "I seldom had a good meal in my traveling, not that it mattered much: food was one of the dullest subjects."

It was a slap in the face. A kick in the stomach. A stab in the back.

I think I am through with you, Paul Theroux.
Ashley
Reread during my recent Theroux binge.
Ensiform
The travel writer decides to visit his adopted country and walks or takes the train or bus around the coast of Britain, including Ulster. Britain in the mid-’80s was a bleak, economically depressed place; Theroux, at least in this book, is a bleak, spiritually depressed person. He mocks the British for their foibles. He mocks them for their proverbially reserved, taciturn manner, then he mocks them when they’re garrulous, nostalgic and wistful. He lists ways in which British seaside towns are al...more
Ronald Wise
Reading this book carefully while following Theroux's course on Wikimapia, I feel like I've retroactively added a new dimension to all the Brit lit I've ever read, and the British cinema and television I've ever seen. I now have a more vivid image of scene and character that comes directly from this author's descriptions of the geological and ethnic variations along the British coastline.

Theroux started at Margate on the south side of the Thames' mouth, and traveled clockwise around Great Britai...more
Hugh
I enjoyed reading The Great Railway Bazaar so wanted to read more travel books by Paul Theroux.

In Kingdom by the Sea he chose travel the UK's coastline, on foot where possible, visiting dreary sea-side towns, and staying in scruffy B&Bs. But his bizarre choice of route and destinations leads to a dull, repetitive and somewhat depressing view of the country, towns and its people.

One cannot be of an opinion other than that he had decided in advance the view he wished to portray. He carefully a...more
Drew
Having got more than halfway into this book I put it aside and it slipped from my mind. Not to say that it was bad: it had that same mixture of dogged, dyspeptic misanthropy and highbrow disregard for the everyday that makes Theroux's work so wretchedly funny - in parts at least. But what it lacked was a narrative reaching beyond its basic premise, which is, put simply, to go around the whole sea coast of Britain by foot, train and bus.
This leads to a curiously episodic form that only with diff...more
Jane
All travel writers are not the same. Some are humorous, poking fun at places and people. Some are very serious, explaining facts at every turn. And some are observers. For me, Paul Theroux is the latter. I haven't come away with any new, great insights into the coast of the UK. I have made a couple of notes of coastlines to visit - mainly in Scotland. I love the sea, and there are portions of the UK coastline that I already love too - Gower, Pembrokeshire, Yorkshire - and in the back of my mind...more
Ben Ballin
This book is a mixed bag. It tells a story of a faded Britain [and particularly an England] that is little by little being eroded. It was written at the time of the Falklands War and the Royal Baby [William, not George], of recession and early Thatcherism, and it would be intriguing to see how much had changed if Theroux were to travel the coast in shiny post-Blair public-private new-austerity Britain. So, in a sense, it is a period piece.
Theroux can be poetic and funny, but also waspish and so...more
Troy Parfitt
I've always wanted to go to Great Britain, but Paul Theroux's The Kingdom by the Sea is the closest I've gotten. If you want to know what a romp around the UK feels like, you can read Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island and have a laugh, or you can read this book and be informed. Theroux, after having lived in London for years, decides to take a tour around the UK, nearly literally; the subtitle is A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain. He heads off with his oily boots, his backpack, a...more
jennifer
65.Theroux, an American who lives in London, decides to travel the coast, stopping wherever he likes and meeting the people. At this point (1982) Theroux had lived in London for eleven years but hardly ventured out of the city. So he begins in the city of Margate, a coastal town with a violent reputation, and travels by train, bus, hitchhiking and walking along the coast and traveling into Ireland to see "The Troubles". He carries a knapsack and stays at B&Bs, which are often just rooms in a...more
BC
I'm a huge Theroux fan, so it's not a shock that I enjoyed this book. I found the early parts to be slow going - Theroux is at his best when he's contrasting places. The book got better when he got to Wales, Northern Ireland, and especially Scotland. His Travelogues work best when he can observe changes between regions, and this book is no exception. His views of the English were interesting. He spent a lot of time talking about unemployment, a problem endemic to the country during his travels....more
David Bales
A slow-starting book by Paul Theroux about the trip around the outline of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the summer of 1982, a pivotal time in British history during "Thatcherism" and economic collapse, the war in the Falklands, the troubles in Northern Ireland, football riots, skinheads, punk rock, the pope's visit and a railways strike. Theroux finds a lot of depression, dereliction, poverty and blackness in his journey, (which gets wearying) but has typically interesting and insightful...more
Zachames
As with any Theroux book, this is a collection of stories about traveling across a certain geography and its features, but is ultimately is a story of the people that populate it. He's honest with his prejudices and I think in this honesty there is the ability to choose to even identify more with the people he doesn't like than the ones he does. He gets a bit anti-American in Aberdeen, but that's typical of Theroux, and at this point, easily looked past. When it comes to some things he is as cru...more
Chris
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know...more
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The Great Railway Bazaar Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town The Mosquito Coast Riding the Iron Rooster The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas

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“The larger an English industry was, the more likely it was to go bankrupt, because the English were not naturally corporate people; they disliked working for others and they seemed to resent taking orders. On the whole, directors were treated absurdly well, and workers badly, and most industries were weakened by class suspicion and false economies and cynicism. But the same qualities that made English people seem stubborn and secretive made them, face to face, reliable and true to their word. I thought: The English do small things well and big things badly.” 1 likes
“I said I didn't think it would be a collectivist state so much as a wilderness in which most people lived hand to mouth, and the rich would live like princes - better than the rich had ever lived, except that their lives would constantly be in danger from the hungry predatory poor. All the technology would serve the rich, but they would need it for their own protection and to assure their continued prosperity.” 0 likes
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