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A Review of The Angry Island (Hunting the English)
(Phoenix, U.K. 2006)
by A.A.Gill

Reviewed by John Stiles

"Pen(s) his political theories, rants and venom in a circuitous, rambling style."


Early on in my writing career someone told me that it would "be nice if the reviewer actually read the book." In reading A.A. Gill's The Angry Island I too can be accused of this oversight. This is not because the book is not good nor is it because it turns you off. The reason is that the book is simply so dense and packed with hilarious, morbid, annoyingly accurate information about the English character that, like a maiden aunt, you want to savour each 'bon mot' for its venom. Gill, a writer for swanky periodicals such as Esquire and The Times writes like one of the cranky old men he admires from 1960's Soho, London.

As he admits early on:

"The old post-war denizens and wardens of Soho, those yellowing, tweedy, piss-stained literary sclerotics who rolled around like random pinballs getting ejected from one sagging pub after another, were, for a brief time, my low-life heroes."

A Scot and an admitted alcoholic, Gill vents as if you had stumbled into him in a dingy bar and he was in the middle of a rambling but blindingly astute rebuke of 'gardens' or the 'class system' in England. The writing is not structured per se, it is, as with all fine books which are either read by alcoholics in bars (think Charles Bukowski`s Women or William Burroughs' Place of Dead Roads) or are never finished because the reader skips to the section they like best. The book is more a dense and rambling conversation. The book is structured into chapters: Humour, Cotswolds, Drink, Sport, Queues, Sorry, Letchworth Garden City et al but there is no particular rhyme nor reason to the chapter chronology. Gill is left to pen his political theories, rants and venom in circuitous style and the writing is all the more wealthy because of it.

On queues:

"The English queue because they have to. If they didn't they'd kill each other."

On nostalgia:

"An American pointed out that the English were the only people on earth who manage to feel shadenfreude about themselves."

On animals:

"The English love of animals...may be because they are incapable of being open, friendly and honest with other people."

I can't say that I agree with all of Gill's observations. He opens by saying how dissimilar Brazilians and Canadians are; from my experience I find them more similar than dissimilar. Both have been affected by cultural imperialism and are now blossoming, both have large land masses and dare I say it - happy populations. But if you read Gill's book verbatim, there is no one more unhappy or angry than the Brits. Also unlike an expatriate Scottish forebear of three-hundred (300) years, Tobias Smollet, A.A. Gill is not an inventor of a new writing genre, i.e. the picturesque. His writing is more Withnail and I crossed with Henry Miller seasoned with a little John Kennedy Toole (yes, indeed, male!). It is hysterically funny, at times, mainly soberingly sad and poignant. If you are looking for a good satire or parody of the British choose Peregrine Pickle or Roderick Random. A.A. Gill is just very very good, even if you don`t agree with the mildly-cultivated, drunken, blithering, mad drunk in the bar.