'The Road to Little Dribbling' - Book Review

I first encountered Bill Bryson's books on the backpacker trail in southeast Asia. Near the cheap hotels there are small bookstores specializing in English language books where the hippies and the hipsters go to trade in the books they've read and collect another couple they haven't read. Bryson has done a lot of travel writing and he's often funny, so his work showed up more than most - about the only books that outnumbered his were used travel guides for the countries in the region. Inevitably, I ended up reading a couple of his books and mostly enjoying them. He's funny, but he often comes across as a bitterly unhappy man.

Roughly twenty years ago, he wrote a book called Notes from a Small Island about touring around Great Britain (I haven't read it). In 2015, he published The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island. As it turns out, he married a British woman and has lived in the UK for much of his life. I've enjoyed his books, but particularly Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way and A Short History of Nearly Everything. They convinced me I should continue to read his stuff: I love the detours he takes, as in A Short History where he talks about the personal lives and eccentricities of famous scientists as much as the science they brought us.

The Road to Little Dribbling follows Bryson as he once again travels around Britain, mostly visiting places he didn't go for the previous book. He's mellowed with age and is clearly desperately in love with the countryside of his adopted home ... but his way of presenting it can be somewhat jarring. He tells you how awe-inspiring Stonehenge is, and how much better it is than 20 years ago now that the car park is half a mile away instead of right next to it. He also covers some of the stranger scientific details of what we do and don't know about the place. And in the next paragraph he explains how he went to the sandwich shop next to the monument and stabbed the attendant in the head for some minor infraction of etiquette. This is of course meant to be humour, but it's incredibly jarring after his paean to Stonehenge while simultaneously throwing into question the accuracy of his narrative. This happens repeatedly throughout the book, with equally discomforting results. I think I know when things are meant to be "humour" and when they're meant to be "factual," but after 350 pages of these violent contrasts, I ceased to be sure what was correct and what wasn't. Representative of this is that he never mentions "Little Dribbling" in the book at all - and in fact it doesn't seem to exist.

In the end, I enjoyed the book ... but I end up feeling that it's a work of fiction rather than fact.