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An American Romance

Edward Mendelson

18 February 1982
Old Glory: An American Voyage 
by Jonathan Raban.
Collins, 527 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 9780002165211
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No particular place to go 
by Hugo Williams.
Cape, 200 pp., £6.50, October 1981, 0 224 01810 8
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... Old Glory – the book written by JonathanRaban – is an altogether different book from the Old Glory that was praised in the reviews, but it is no less wonderful for that. The book the reviewers wrote about does not exist at all, except as the ...

Funny Water

Frank Kermode: Raban​ at Sea

20 January 2000
Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings 
by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 435 pp., £16.99, November 1999, 0 330 34628 8
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... JonathanRaban is afraid of the sea, saying it is not his element, which is probably why he spends so much time on it. He does not claim to be a world-class sailor, though he is obviously a competent one. One good ...
24 January 1991
Hunting Mister Heartbreak 
by Jonathan Raban.
Harvill, 428 pp., £14, November 1990, 0 00 272031 0
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... Travelling,’ JonathanRaban once remarked, ‘is inherently a plotless, disordered, chaotic affair, where writing insists on connection, order, plot, signification.’ Even the best contemporary travel writing is haunted by the ...
17 August 1989
Intellectuals 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 385 pp., £14.95, October 1988, 0 297 79395 0
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CounterBlasts No 1: God, Man and Mrs Thatcher 
by Jonathan Raban.
Chatto, 72 pp., £2.99, June 1989, 0 7011 3470 4
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... opinions have been classified as blasphemy and threatened with death. Margaret Thatcher’s traditions, and Waugh’s, are not the only traditions we have. There are others and they are in danger. JonathanRaban presents himself, in his CounterBlast pamphlet, as an intellectual who perceives, in the Prime Minister’s ‘scant’ address last year to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland ...
12 December 1996
Bad Land: An American Romance 
by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 325 pp., £15.99, October 1996, 0 330 34621 0
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... I am not a travel writer,’ JonathanRaban said in a recent interview. ‘For me, “travel writer” means someone who samples other people’s holidays – you talk about the food, the hotel, throw in a bit of local colour. If I thought ...

Your life depends on it

Thomas Jones: Jonathan Raban

19 October 2006
Surveillance 
by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 327 pp., £16.99, September 2006, 0 330 41338 4
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... JonathanRaban’s first work of fiction, Foreign Land, was published in 1985; his second, Waxwings, in 2003; Surveillance is his third. A gap of almost twenty years, and then two novels in fairly rapid succession ...
18 December 1986
Between the Woods and the Water 
by Patrick Leigh Fermor et al.
Murray, 248 pp., £13.95, October 1986, 0 7195 4264 2
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Coasting 
by Jonathan Raban.
Collins, 301 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 00 272119 8
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The Grand Tour 
by Hunter Davies.
Hamish Hamilton, 224 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 241 11907 3
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... to restore to ‘Elias Cavetti’ his proper name, Elias Canetti. Minor details, indeed. As a song of the open road, Between the Woods and the Water is a lively, engaging book. On 1 April 1982, JonathanRaban set out from Fowey Estuary in a 30-foot ketch, the Gosfield Maid, to sail round the British Isles. ‘I wanted to find out what, on earth or sea, made my peculiar country tick.’ His procedure ...

Navigational Aids

Liam McIlvanney: Jonathan Raban​ and the ‘novel-sized city’

6 November 2003
Waxwings 
by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 311 pp., £15.99, August 2003, 0 330 41320 1
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... When the hero of JonathanRaban’s new novel is scolded for living in a world of his ‘own construction’, the implied rebuke falls flat: this, for Raban, is the whole point of America. Raban’s travel books present America as a ‘glittering fiction’, a country shaped by the ardent imaginings of its immigrant millions and by the universal reach of its popular fables – ‘the ...
21 June 1984
The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 303 pp., £9.95, October 1983, 0 241 11086 6
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Doctor Slaughter 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 137 pp., £6.95, June 1984, 0 241 11255 9
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... no, sorry, I don’t think I’ll do that after all. This is a strong tendency in recent travel writing – the traveller going to an unexciting location and reporting on his lack of excitement; JonathanRaban and Hugo Williams purvey this mode as well. Is it that old-style travellers chose their destinations better? Did they perhaps fake their enthusiasm? Or was the world simply fresher then? Today ...

Planes, Trains and SUVs

Jonathan Raban: James Meek

7 February 2008
We Are Now Beginning Our Descent 
by James Meek.
Canongate, 295 pp., £16.99, February 2008, 978 1 84195 988 7
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... James Meek’s last, bestselling novel, The People’s Act of Love, published in 2005 to great critical acclaim, was set in 1919, in ‘that part of Siberia lying between Omsk and Krasnoyarsk’. Anglophone readers who can locate ‘that’ part of Siberia without a good atlas deserve spot prizes. The historical date and exotic location gave Meek a fictional and cultural space in which extraordinary ...

Trouble at the Fees Office

Jonathan Raban: Alice in Expenses Land

11 June 2009
... Following the great parliamentary expenses scandal from afar has been to view my home country through the wrong end of a telescope: so many scuttling figures, comically diminished in scale, like poor, tiny Douglas Hogg, with his flat cap and backpack, breathlessly hurrying down the street pursued by a giant fuzzy insect in the form of a microphone. ‘That is not correct. That is not correct,’ he ...

Cameron’s Crank

Jonathan Raban: ‘Red Tory’

22 April 2010
Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix it 
by Phillip Blond.
Faber, 309 pp., £12.99, April 2010, 978 0 571 25167 4
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... It’s been a quarter-century since I last listened to The Archers on Radio 4, so I’m out of touch. I read in the papers that Phil Archer, or at least Norman Painting, who played him, died recently, but is Jill still around? Where’s Shula? What’s with Eddie Grundy? Old Walter Gabriel must be long gone, but what happened to his scapegrace son, Nelson? Are the village shop and post office still ...

Granny in the Doorway

Jonathan Raban: Sheringham, 1945

16 August 2017
... We were​ an inseparable couple, my mother and I. Our address was: The White House, Hempton Green, nr Fakenham, Norfolk. Here we stove in the shells of our breakfast eggs with teaspoons to prevent witches from using them as boats (the eggs came from Mrs Atherton, who helped my mother in the house and kept chickens at her nearby cottage). Here we listened to the News on the wireless twice and sometimes ...
15 September 1983
George Borrow: Eccentric 
by Michael Collie.
Cambridge, 275 pp., £19.50, November 1982, 0 521 24615 6
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A World of his Own: The Double Life of George Borrow 
by David Williams.
Oxford, 178 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 19 211762 9
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Eothen: Traces of Travel Brought Home from the East 
by Alexander Kinglake and Jan Morris.
Oxford, 279 pp., £2.95, November 1982, 0 19 281361 7
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Eothen 
by Alexander Kinglake and Jonathan Raban.
Century, 226 pp., £6.95, September 1982, 0 7126 0031 0
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... down the generations from Robert Curzon’s Monasteries of the Levant (1849) to Robert Byron’s Road to Oxiana (1937) or Paul Theroux’s Great Railway Bazaar (1975).’ For the Century edition, JonathanRaban likewise sees a link with Theroux and Robert Byron (‘Byron comes close to plagiarism,’ he suggests) and he adds Evelyn Waugh’s Labels and Graham Greene’s Journey without Maps to the ...
12 November 1987
For Love and Money: Writing, Reading, Travelling 1969-1987 
by Jonathan Raban.
Collins Harvill, 350 pp., £11.50, November 1987, 0 00 272279 8
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Original Copy: Selected Reviews and Journalism 1969-1986 
by John Carey.
Faber, 278 pp., £9.95, August 1987, 0 571 14879 4
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... That which appears in the ephemerae isn’t necessarily ephemeral. Not all reviews are written lefthandedly by authors who save their best efforts for quite different sorts of writing. They may, as JonathanRaban’s title suggests, be working for love as well as money, and it is easy to understand their wish to give their best work in this kind a more permanent form. Raban has some engaging remarks on ...

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