Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pretty but too much personal information

While browsing at the wonderful Union Avenue Bookstore a few weeks ago I opened A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside by Susan Branch and was immediately captivated.  The book is gorgeous, with hand-lettered texts, photos and many beautiful illustrations.  Plus, it's about England, so I figured it would be right up my alley.

Susan Branch is the author and illustrator of a number of beautiful books on such topics as cooking and Christmas.  She's also an Anglophile and was excited to book a 2 month vacation to England in 2012.  She and her husband Joe booked passage on the Queen Mary 2 and set off in May.

Once they arrived in England, they rented a car and drove around to many well-known sights and stayed at beautiful homes in the countryside.  She also visited some friends she had known for a while.  There are lots of quotes and historical facts included that help to make the pages attractive and interesting.

That said, for a book that touts being about "the English Countryside" quite a lot of the book was taken up with telling the reader about her relationship with her husband, including (this is not an exaggeration) 20 pages on how they met and their first date.  There are also way too many tedious details of their day-to-day lives.  The part near the beginning when they are on the ship is especially excruciating.  Here is a verbatim section from page 57:

I just slept 12 hours! Didn't do too well the rest of yesterday.  I was seasick.  I put on my wrist bands way too late; next time they go on before I get on the ship, even if the water looks like glass.  They usually work for me.  Joe's fine, he has the permanent sea legs from years of cooking on a schooner, but if the sea is rough, I can even feel queasy during the forty-five minute ferry ride from Martha's Vineyard to the mainland.  Feeling better this morning; knitting & having a cup of chamomile tea to soothe my tummy.  Joe's sleeping; he went to the casino after tucking me in last night. 
All we get to hear about Thirsk

And on and on -- quite a bit of the book is like that.  Why the author thinks anyone is actually interested in reading this, or why she'd take the time to artistically render it (and why no editor stepped in and cut out a lot of it) is a mystery.  Two places that she visited hardly get a mention:  London and Thirsk (home of James Herriott).  It's odd that these places, both packed with interesting stuff, are hardly noted, while we get much more detail than we care to about unimportant domestic matters.

Similarly, the last 13 pages of the book are a weird mish-mash of thoughts after her trip, references to her friends, and advice such as "Walk a Country Road as Often as Possible" and ""Listen to Birds Sing" (with the obligatory photo of her and her husband kissing at the end).  Again, the book is beautiful -- it's only when you actually start reading the text that the problems begin.  If you like to look at pretty pictures, this is a pleasant book to thumb through.  If you're not actually acquainted with the author, however, the details and descriptions of her personal life will grow old quickly.

Final Verdict for A Fine Romance:   Two Gherkins, for being the embodiment of style over substance

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