Sunday 16 August 1998
The great thing about Dervla Murphy's travel books is that you know that her own decision - as a sexagenarian - to cross the country on a bicycle is not the main story. There is no danger of the book suddenly turning into a journey in search of the "inner-self". Although we do learn about her unpleasant encounters with bad weather, mosquitoes etc, her books are generally about the places and people she encounters.
And at 570 pages, this is a little monster of a book, describing a little monster of a journey. Ms Murphy has been reading about South Africa since the early 1950s and planning to write this book since the early 1980s. She finally got in and began her travels in 1993 after the apartheid laws had been rescinded; she was in the country before, during and after the first elections.
She rode a bicycle, on the grounds that this was how she could best see how people lived. She covered 6,000 miles of cycling through the nine new provinces of South Africa, visiting both impoverished villages - of whites as well as blacks - and the luxurious homes of the very rich.
The book is written in diary form and rambles somewhat. It also has a much harder, more investigative edge than your average travel book. But then the special situation of South Africa seems to ask for it.
The Companion Guide To The Greek Islands (Companion Guides, pounds 16.95) by Ernie Bradford
This belongs to an older school of guide book, with large quantities of text and not a single telephone number or price anywhere in sight. Maps, too, are somewhat thin on the ground, considering the large number of islands under discussion. But while obviously lacking the practical detail of a Rough Guide, it does not match the cultural information of a Blue Guide.
It is really rather a slow, undemanding read, with comments about cafes following seamlessly from passages about church interiors. There are few concessions for the younger traveller.
"The trouble is that Mykonos," declares the author, "is now all too accessible ... the town has become a well-organised machine for absorbing tourists' money." Which is presumably an old-fashioned way of saying that Mykonos is, in fact, the most popular of all the Greek islands.
Quite a few of the author's more inconsequential observations seem to have survived the editor's knife. In the small town of Kamariotissa, for example, the taxi drivers are "curt, even surly" while in Paros a "very thin old woman ... turned on us a disturbingly evil eye". Was it that bad?
The book is good on historical anecdotes, and it is not without atmosphere, though I suspect that we do not need 400 pages of it.
The Paris of Joyce and Beckett (London Irish Literary Travel) by Brian O'Shea and Sean Donlon. Available by post for pounds 2 from London Irish Literary Travel, 29-41 North Road, London N7 9DP
Strictly for the specialist, this is a pamphlet (30 pages long) written in homage to two Irish masters. Five itineraries are detailed, each of which begins with a little scene- setting.
"It is summer 1920," begins the first walk, "and Joyce, after a hard afternoon's work at the Bibliotheque Nationale, is enjoying a leisurely journey back to his flat..." We then get instructions of how to follow his route, passing Notre Dame where Joyce "often attended vespers", stopping off at his favourite cafes.
Take this with you on your next Paris trip.
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