Is Further Away by AA Gill – Book Review

AA Gill in the Arctic
AA Gill in the Arctic

I think we can accept AA Gill, the Sunday Times TV and restaurant critic, into our Senior citizens community in that he reaches the age of 60 next year and also in that this book is very much the writings of somebody looking back on life and bringing out interesting observations from near and far.

‘Is Further Away’ contains 30 articles divided equally between the ‘Near’ – the home-based observations – and the ‘Far’, which cover fifteen different countries, from Iceland to the Maldives and from India to Madagascar. The articles were previously published in the Sunday Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and National Geographic.

Book cover
Book cover

Although I was reading it more from the point of view of the travel aspects, many of the home-based articles showed the observational skills and opinionated manner that is the author’s hallmark. I particularly empathised with his views on Fatherhood and Old age. In the latter article he points out that: “We are one of the few cultures in all the world, down all the ages, that don’t treat age as an achievement in and of itself.” And that: “Most old people are more interesting than most young people, simply because they are older.”

In reading the ‘Far’ articles, naturally I was interested in those which covered places I had myself visited to see whether our views coincided. Certainly on Dubai we agree. He starts the article by saying: “The only way to make sense of Dubai is to never forget that it isn’t real. Dubai is Las Vegas without the showgirls, the gambling or Elvis.” Spot on!

In his trip down the whole length of the Danube, I can also agree, based on my own experiences, with his generalisations on two capitals that he passed through. On Vienna he says that: “It isn’t anybody-friendly. Frail, loveable humanity isn’t Vienna’s bag“. Whereas on reaching Budapest he realises he has been missing laughter and a sense of humour in his journey through Germany and Austria and he has now arrived at “a funny place” that eats well and drinks a lot!

Budapest on the Danube
Budapest “a funny place”

The articles I find most interesting are those about countries that are not easily visited, unless you are a reporter. He provides well-researched descriptions of Albania, Algeria and Haiti with insights into what it is like for people who live in these countries.

This is a great book to take with you when travelling – I found it a good companion during my recent Sicily touring holiday. The short articles are perfect for digesting between meals and other disturbances when flying. The ‘Far’ articles provide ideas for further travelling, and some of the ‘Near’ articles, such as the one on Morris Dancing, remind you of why you make the effort to travel abroad!

Published in paperback by Phoenix, England, 2012 (ISBN 978-0-7538-2929-5) and can be obtained at a discounted price from Waterstones with free UK delivery or from the Book Depository with free world-wide delivery.