Jim's Reviews > Mustn't Grumble: An Accidental Return to England

Mustn't Grumble by Joe   Bennett
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May 11, 08

bookshelves: travel, this-sceptred-isle, humorous, non-fiction
Recommended for: People who like travel but hate tourism.
Read in May, 2008

Joe Bennett is a Englishman who has spent most of life as an expatriate, visiting England so he can write about it (and complain about it). Ironically, given the title, he grumbles quite a bit. He grumbles about the class system. He grumbles about the social anxieties drummed up by the media. He grumbles about politics. He grumbles about the general English inability to open up to other people. Most of all, he grumbles about the way tourism has spoiled travel. On visiting the home town of Alice Liddell (Lewis Carroll's Alice), he mentions the Mad Hatter's Tea Room and the Tweedledum and Tweedledee suites in the hotel. He refrains from commenting further, "for fear of becoming shrill".

Bennett's journey parallels that of travel writer H.V. Morton, who went around England in his car in 1926, at a time when private travel was new. In his book In Search of England, Morton portrays the England of the shires, extolling in the country values of stout yeoman farmers, parsons, and squires. In reading Morton, one would hardly know that his travels occured at the same time as the social upheaval of the Great Strike. Bennett suspects that the manufactured quaintness he despises got its start at least partly from Morton.

Bennett prefers to see places as they are, unmediated by theme parks and interpretive centers. As he says when thinking of William Golding living in Salisbury, we assign meaning to the places we visit. Better to appreciate Salisbury in one's own mind than to buy a ticket for the "William Golding/Lord of the Flies Experience" (which thankfully doesn't exist).

One thing about England that Bennett does like is pubs. He likes the fact that pubs are "neutral territory" where people can let their guard down and be friendly with strangers. He likes English pubs because they are the only places that know how to serve bitter (slightly warm and flat). He also likes the fact that one can get a pork pie.

Bennett likes the freedom that comes with travel, the freedom to go where one wishes and see what one wants. He makes the point that this freedom is based on one's insiginificance while traveling. By that he means the traveler is beholden to no one; no one expects him to do anything in particular. (So turn off that bloody mobile phone!)

I liked this book. It reminded me a little of Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island in that both books are funny and critical of human foibles and anything that smacks of tweeness or touristy kitsch.However,both find a lot to like about England, most of which has little to do with tourist boards.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

As an Englishman who has spent most of my life as an expatriate, I should probably get around to reading this. Ooh -- I hate tourism too!


message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim It was sort of a mirror image of Bryson's Notes from a Small Island. For all of Bryson's snarkiness, one gets the sense that England, for him is a place that drew him. With Bennett, one gets the sense that it drove him away (though he clearly has a soft spot for it).


Stew I think the Bryson comparisons are inevitable but they are very different writers. i liked the book very much and I like Bryson's too but for different reasons.


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