Thursday 29 September 2011

Bill Bryson's 'Being Disappointed Somewhere Else'

And my axe!

I was recently sent a preview copy of Bill Bryson’s new travelogue, Being Disappointed Somewhere Else. I include for now the extract below concerning the morning after Bill arrives in Fritz Lieber’s Lankhmar.
The pub was filled with middle-aged thugs still trying to look dashing in tights and tiny daggers. They had a certain rakish quality to them (ie. they were thin and moved rubbish from one place to another) but in the last fifty years fashion had moved on and they refusing to move with it were left in the same bars, discussing the same crimes, whilst their children had left for grander places that looked a lot like Rome and where fate had a big magic sword in mind for them. The thugs nearest looked back at me, but not from suspicion I realised so much as hope that I might recognise them. Might have heard of them, might even perhaps have delighted in their adventures, from when stories were sly, and clever and often enjoyed a glorious failure more than some dour victory. I did not and apologised with a shrug that I hoped conveyed a certain worldly air, but which I hastily converted into an attempt to settle my jacket more comfortably when my elbow caught the teapot.
I had taken a room in the Silver Eel because when I had toured mythical places with my boyhood friend Katz, the Silver Eel had been cheap. It did not allow rooms for more than a night, though you could take it again the next morning. Young men as we were then both of us were entranced by the bustling sea port and thought nothing of a city that had a Guild, for Thieves, that controlled crime, and nowadays survived (like the city itself) due to an understanding with the City of Ankh Morpork when the latter had gone from parody to comedy, to best-seller. There was no particular ill-will I knew, but a lot more people went to Ankh Morpork without ever having heard of Lankhmar at all. Which was just awful.
Similarly awful I felt was what had happened to this city, and probably because of this. The rows of New Wave fantasy alleyways about the Plaza of Dark Delights had been demolished to be replaced by an indoor mall to equip much longer stories where much less happens. Also, a Holiday Inn of astonishing ugliness. The smoky shadows of the Bazaar of the Bazaar had been cleared out and replaced with great sheets of plate glass and a Nehwon Building Society. Why such a place needs to advertise what it does continues here as elsewhere to befuddle me, with the entire window taken up with a fan of pamphlets, and a dancing girl in a cage.
But today I looked forward to being disappointed again, drinking alone, eating unsatisfactory meals and whining on, and on, and on about lightbulbs.
Which I thought was just wonderful.        


  1. The only thing missing from this is the thin, high voice, so much more like JK Rowling had intended Voldemort to speak than the Day-Lewis version. I like Bryson on language, but he really shouldn't leave the backwoods of Maine or Vermont or wherever it is he lurks, as he really doesn't travel well. Which is a shame for a travel writer.

  2. He had to leave New England as being a writer there means that Stephen King will have something rugged, yet dreadful, happen to you.