David's Reviews > The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British

The Anglo Files by Sarah Lyall
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's review
Feb 16, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: read-in-2010, disappointing
Read on February 16, 2010

Lured on by the mendacious cover blurbs ("razor-sharp, wickedly insightful, hilarious" - oh, really, Graydon Carter?; "an exquisite, hilarious and devastating dissection of the British" - for shame, Malcolm Gladwell, you lie like a rug!), I was actually suckered into paying full price for this bowl of insipid gruel. Come on, Ms Lyall, if the reader is promised a merciless takedown of the Brits, you have an obligation to deliver - Lord knows there's plenty of material to choose from. Modest hand-wringing about the state of British dentition just doesn't qualify as "wicked", "devastating", or remotely interesting.

On the evidence, Sarah Lyall seems like a fine, upstanding, perfectly nice New York Times correspondent who happened to marry an Englishman. But when I buy a book like this, I'm not looking for nice - I want someone who is willing to take the gloves off and get down and dirty. Some fresh insights beyond dismayed twittering about odd English dietary preferences and their predilection for living in cold, drafty hovels would help as well. But Sarah's much too nice a young lady to provide the malice that might have spiced up this flavorless olla podrida. Her accounts of topics like U and non-U terminology, the eccentric denizens of the House of Lords, and the unique potential for boredom that cricket affords are just a tepid rehash of cliches that others have presented with infinitely more panache.

A genuinely hilarious essay about the 2003 hedgehog wars of North Uist and a reasonably funny account of the British stag party menace that terrorizes continental Europe, from Torremolinos to Prague and beyond, save this from being a total wipeout.

It is, nonetheless, a bland and unengaging disappointment. Maybe she didn't want to risk offending the in-laws.
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