Geoffrey Moorhouse yields nothing to Robyn Davidson, whose book he reviews, when it comes to a knowledge of camels: his The Fear-ful Void is an account of a 2000-mile trek across the Sahara.
Until quite recently, no one needed to ask explorers why they put themselves at risk in the wilder places on the globe. Obviously they were looking for some rumoured wealth or a tribe of which hints had been heard, or else they were simply trying to fill in blanks on the map, to find out whether it was indeed possible to get from point A to point B. These days, when we think we know everything about the planet, it is much harder to explain to the static why one should volunteer for discomfort and worse in the emptinesses of land or sea: it smacks too much of masochism, exhibitionism or self-indulgence, and none of us likes to be caught out in any of these. Of her own wandering for several months across the Outback of her native Australia, Robyn Davidson says: ‘The lunatic idea was, basically, to get myself the requisite number of wild camels from the bush and train them to carry my gear, then walk into and about the central desert area.’ As if realising that this might seem a bit short on motivation to some, she adds 30 pages later that going into the Outback with her camels would be ‘a way of getting to know’ Aborigines ‘directly and simply’. With that we have to be content.
The focus of Geoffrey Moorhouse’s book is a great church with one of the most recognisable profiles in Europe: Durham Cathedral. The ‘last office’ – ‘office’...
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