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The Kingdom by the Sea

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  4,034 ratings  ·  204 reviews
It was 1982, the summer of the Falkland Islands War, and the birth of the royal heir, Prince William - and the ideal time, Theroux found, to surprise the British into talking about themselves. The result is a candid, funny, perceptive, and opinionated travelogue of his journey and his findings.
Paperback, 368 pages
Published by Penguin (first published October 1st 1983)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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Oh Paul Theroux, why must you be so grouchy? I mean, you're traveling around England, one of the best countries on earth! Where's the joy? Where's the love? Where's the gratitude?

OK, so I now realize that I had unrealistic expectations for this book. I liked Theroux's memoir of his travels around the coast of Great Britain, but I didn't love it as I had hoped.

Theroux, who was born in America, had good fish-out-of-water stories about living and traveling in England, but for some reason it was a
Oct 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Chris Steeden
Without visiting castles and cathedrals Theroux decides to walk, train, hitch-hike and bus the coast of Britain as far as is possible (not forgetting the ferry to Northern Ireland). He just wants to observe and speak with people on the journey to get a sense of the places he visits. He has been living in London for 11 years but had not seen Britain. Nowhere in Britain is more than 65 miles from the sea so he decided his route would be round the coast. He does not want any stunts as this would di ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Published not many years after Theroux found success with his wonderful Great Railway Bazaar, he wrote this, traveling the perimeter of his adopted (at the time) home of Great Britain. Theroux is a wonderful observer, open to experience, a lover of people and customs, but doesn't hold back when he dislikes a landscape that has been ravaged or the ugliness of a town (e.g., Aberdeen). Never making advance plans or reservations, he set out with a knapsack and one pair of shoes, staying at b&b's and ...more
Aug 21, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: travel, non-fiction, ugh
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
Jan 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
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
Feb 20, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 12, 2019 rated it liked it
I started this as an audiobook but that just didn't work; I wanted to check maps to follow all the places author was visiting.
Paul Theroux had written several travel/train books, including The Great Railway Bazaar, before he decided to learn more about Great Britain, the country in which he had been living for the past 10 years. So, he sets out by rail, by bus, and by foot to learn the land and people by following the coast. Britain has always been defined by the sea, he says, and no place in
Apr 13, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Mike Ratliff
Sep 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My mother-in-law, Rose Virgo, was a great reader, and no doubt felt some embarrassment at having a relation ignorant of such great writers such as Theroux. Consequently, the first birthday after my marriage, she gifted me this wonderful travel book. For years thereafter, one after another, I received travel books by Theroux until, having exhausted them, she proceeded to introduce me to other great travel writers. This, certainly, was one of the most wonderful gifts of my life, and remains a favo ...more
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
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
Oct 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
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.
Sherry Sharpnack
Aug 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I have read Paul Theroux’s travel articles in “Smithsonian” magazine, but confess to never having read his fiction. I was intrigued by his book about walking around the coast of England over a three-month period in 1982. What a disappointment.

I was hoping to learn more about my mother-in-law’s birthplace in order to share this book w/ her, but she would take high dudgeon at Theroux’s description of the seashore all around her home, and his descriptions about the various British inhabitants and v
This book was written in the 80's at the start of the Faukland War
Which makes much of what Theroux writes very out of date. I did enjoy some of his descriptions of the crazy hotels and interesting observations on the British. I very much enjoyed his train trips- I often thought of the Thomas the Tank Engine series that my children loved with branch lines and steam engines and beautiful countryside.

Interesting now a piece of long ago Britain.

The insight into Britain’s past is fascinating—this book was written eighteen years before I was born, and yet the neoliberal reforms that Theroux occasionally comments on have since changed the face of my country entirely. So much is similar, but so much of it feels like a lost nostalgic heartland that, even as Theroux wrote the book, was already fast disappearing. I’ve been getting into the Smiths recently—they formed during the same summer as Theroux’s journey—and I find their music has a sim ...more
Bryanna Plog
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great travel book! More a snapshot of Britain in 1982 than travel book strictly about a place, but also some great general travel insights along the way too. Theroux has a gift for description and finding interesting characters along the way.
Aug 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Bit smug. Repeated portentous refs to Falklands War but no analysis of what it might mean for contemporary Britain. Visits many places which have lots to comment on but misses many opportunities. Not much warmth and humanity, from a visitor who chooses instead to describe events like bumping into a lone female traveller and scaring her half to death. Unenlightening,
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Brutally honest but also insightful; Theroux is at his best when mulling contrasts, evocations of other experiences both lived and literary, and the bigger picture.

Overall he sees a lot of morbidity and irreparability in the landscape as well as the people and culture, but I felt that nonetheless I cherished his observations more than I would of a travelogue or diary or history that opted to brighten things with a tinted lens.

"Some towns can be transformed and given a memorable character by a ch
I’ve had this sat on my kindle for the longest time – I read Mosquito Coast (and loved it) years ago, and so thought I’d give Theroux’s travel writing a go. Sat on a beach in Portwrinkle on a glorious day, a jaunt around the British coast seemed just the ticket.

Having already lived in London for years by that point, Theroux decided to travel clockwise around the British coast as a way of getting to know the country better. Starting at the bottom of the south-east coast, just a short train trip a
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, travel
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
Nov 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ronald Wise
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 06, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Such mixed emotions.

The writing is undeniably gorgeous at times - but those times are relatively few.

The people he meets can be quirky, their brief conversations can be revealing - but they can also often be totally trivial and not worth mentioning.

He seems to want to make a political statement about the Falklands War, but never bother actually making it. He assumes his readers catch his drift and agree with it.

Although he seems to pride himself on his progressive views, he has a kind of creepy
Mar 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: us-problems
Interesting to read if only to put current US and European problems in perspective. This was written in 1982 during the British invasion of the Falkland Islands... The infrastructure of the UK had been falling apart since the 1950's and by the time of Theroux's 1982 journey the decay, unemployment and biker gangs were the result.

English people of a certain class often said things like this, taking a satisfaction in the certainty of death, because dying was a way of avoiding the indignity of what
David Corleto-Bales
Feb 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010
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
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
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Nov 28, 2007 rated it it was ok
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.
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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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