Review: You Are Awful (But I Like You) by Tim Moore

Full title: You Are Awful (But I Like You): Travels Through Unloved Britain.

I was in Manchester (the one in England) earlier in the month and thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the Christmas markets, visiting the John Rylands Library, doing a spot of Christmas shopping and eating good food. I only managed to visit one bookshop, and when I can't visit more than one, I try to make it count and therefore I chose Waterstones. The Waterstones I visited in Manchester isn't nearly as large as the big one London, but it was big enough to make me happy.

I don't really need more books and when I buy them new I try to choose ones I know or expect will become keepers. I've already been disappointed by one of my purchases (The Soul of an Octopus) and I can only hope the remaining books I bought will not be as disappointing.

The book under review here is actually one of the books I considered buying, but didn't. I then came across it second hand at a fraction of the price a couple of days after I got home, and I read it in the course of several days, and got considerable enjoyment out of it.

Inspired by a family day trip gone wrong, Tim Moore set out to visit the worst places in England, Scotland and Wales, along with the worst hotels and pubs and the ugliest buildings, all examined while on a road trip driving Britain's worst car, listening to the most awful music Britain has produced, eating  the most notoriously bad food he can find in each area and being guided by a GPS system using the voice of Ozzy Osbourne, whose Brummie accent is considered to be among Britain's ugliest.

Aside from the gimmicky nature of the trip, this book is, more than anything else, an examination of the decay of what were one productive and populous (albeit often insalubrious) industrial towns, with some formerly popular holiday destinations thrown in, attempting to analyse what went wrong with each of them. There are not a lot of laugh-aloud moments, but plenty of chuckle-worthy ones, especially when Moore is describing the problems he has with his car, and the soul-killingly awful music he forces himself to listen to while on the road.

It would be easy to write unsympathetically, even sneeringly, about these places and the people who inhabit them, but instead Moore examines (most of) them with a sympathetic eye and a kind of fascinated awe at the way time and human folly have conspired to make them awful.

It was refreshing to read a travel book about Britain not written by Bill Bryson, which does not try to emulate Bryson's style, and in fact Tim Moore's writing, which has been likened to that of Bryson, is superior. He knows how to do self-deprecating better than Bryson; his jokes, while occasionally cheap, aren't as hackneyed as Bryson's; and his writing doesn't exude the self-righteousness and indignation that often threatens to overpower everything else in Bryson's writing. This one is going on the keeper shelf.


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