Antonomasia's Reviews > In Forkbeard's Wake: Coasting Around Scandinavia

In Forkbeard's Wake by Ben Nimmo
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's review
Jan 15, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: travel, nordic, 2014, decade-2000s
Recommended for: People who like 'Coast' and puns
Read from September 07 to 11, 2014

I'd rather be re-watching Lilyhammer...

The other review of this book is only one line, but it's the right one line: a man sails round Scandinavia, meets a lot of people and makes a lot of puns. That's exactly what happens. And it is actual Scandinavia qua Scandinavia, just Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

This was published (and first bought by me) in 2003, when humorous blokey travelogues by the likes of Tony Hawks and Dave Gorman were selling stacks in Britain. Ben Nimmo must have got the advance which funded this trip off the back of that trend, and because of his previous book, which involved busking with a trombone on a fundraising pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. So far so wacky. And he lays it on very, very thick with the groan-inducing, eye-rolling puns. When he forgets about them for a while, and doesn't labour the point about something, it's not a bad read.

In Nimmo's defence, he's an extrovert who makes friends easily, and he has a knack for imparting information that from many people could sound dry (eg about Viking history) in a casual and interesting way. He is or was also a diving instructor, and it's easy to see he'd make a good school teacher. (Shouldn't teachers also be a bit square like this?) Recently I've seen a couple of reviews mentioning authors or characters that couldn't resist bringing up their Oxbridge education at every opportunity. Nimmo is quite the reverse of these. I never would have guessed if it weren't for the bio at the front, and would have concluded he went somewhere fairly solid but not the kind of university that makes people react with impressment or sarcasm - to Leeds or Southampton, say.

The theme In Forkbeard's Wake never quite comes alive, despite the perky history lessons. The lack of pictures is a big drawback to the sense of being in places where things happened, though there are some decent descriptions of scenery. The Viking stuff is never synthesised with the very different culture and reputation of contemporary Scandinavia. (Though Swedes are apparently notorious to neighbouring countries as rowdy drunks - as also says this.) What I did learn a bit about, though, was boating. (If you can get motion sickness just from a film trailer, the only thing you want to do on boats is close your eyes and attempt to sleep, after making a mental apology to seafaring ancestors whose genes you didn't get. I was never likely to find out about sailing via a practical approach.) Some of the mishaps on the boat were quite exciting; those and the descriptions of locations were the main things worth reading for. But like the TV series Coast (sorry, I really don't get on with it, although a number of friends do and assume I'd like it) - it's better when the presenter shuts up and you near enough just get to look at the place itself.

I've no doubt there are better travel books about the Nordic countries; I can't recommend them, but they're probably sitting in my house unread...
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Reading Progress

09/07/2014 page 6
09/10/2014 page 149
56.0% "Wanted to finish this tonight, but it's not looking likely."
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