Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British by Sarah Lyall (NF)

User avatar
Telynor
Bibliophile
Posts: 1465
Joined: August 2008
Location: On the Banks of the Hudson

The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British by Sarah Lyall (NF)

Post by Telynor » Sun October 26th, 2008, 9:02 am

I freely admit to it -- I am an Anglophile, one of those Americans who look to the English as supplying the things that Americans tend to lack at times, such as fine living, a love of literature and art, the dry humour and despite the fact that most English food is deplorable, they did come up with that sublime meal: afternoon tea. Not to mention all of that history at their doorsteps. I hope that it is a forgiveable mistake on my part, but having grown up on a steady diet of BBC dramas, it might be understandable that my viewpoint is a bit skewed.

So I suspect, was author Sarah Lyall's when she married an Englishman, moved to London, and started a family.

The book opens with an introduction of Ms. Lyall's invitation to visit an ancestral pile out in the countryside, and have a picnic with the resident Earl and his family. Picturing one thing, Srah got something quite different -- and discovered something important about British self-confidence among the aristocracy. The rest of the book follows fairly closely in the same vein.

An early chapter looks at the British system of politics, and the fact that most politicians have big mouths, and a culture that looks at women and minorities as not quite equal as the rest of us, a problem that is exacerabated by the occansional bit of tipple -- tipple meaning an alcoholic lunch followed by a reception where the alcohol flows freely. While some of the stories related in here are funny, there's something really wrong underneath. Which led me right into the next chapter -- that of the British and alcohol.

One chapter really caused me to wince, and that was the one on the British and when they go drinking. Alcoholism is on the rise, and especially binge drinking. Toss in a cheap airfare to say, Prague, along with cheap beer, and the Brits turn into people who are loud, drunk to the point of unconciousness, and exhibiting behavior that most of us wouldn't dream of doing in public. Add in sport, and suddenly the reason for rioting in stadiums with tragic results becomes clear. Not exactly a shining moment.

The entire question of Class is addressed next, with the way how it's determined not by how much money you have as the Americans do it, but how you <I>speak.</I> Are you U or non-U? seems to hover under every conversation, and while no one is really ill-bred enough to blurt out the obvious answer, somehow it's known nearly instantly. And currently, it's the word 'toilet' that is used as the benchmark.

And the book continues on in this vein, looking at some of the more bizarre behaviours of the English, such as the House of Lords, the validation of Marmite as an actual food substance, the eccentricities of the Angle-Grinder Man (his hobby was to dress as a blue and gold lame clad superhero, freeing drivers whose cars had been booted), the appalling state of British Dentistry, and of all things, hedgehogs.

Towards the end, I started to see some of the humour buried under the sarcasm and the somewhat superior tone of this American interloper. She finally begins to see <I>why</I> the British are like this -- survivors of adversity, able to do without in the worst of conditions, and determined to keep their own ways and ideas, despite the continual onslaughts of American consumerism, globalization, and the weather.

But there something rather mean at the center of this one, and one that turned me right off of the author as observer. There's a whinging whining tone to her story, that hints at <I>can't you just go on get with rest of us?</I> attitude that I found pretty condescending. And in turn the British look at the rest of us as rather lazy, crybabies who are spoilt and overindulged. I can't argue with that one either.

While I did enjoy reading this, it's not really a book that I can recommend with any enjoyment either. Lyall seems to be determined here to find out the very worst about the British, and haul it all out in front of the rest of us, waving it about and shrieking <I>See! See! They're just as rotten and snobbish and uppity as you think they are!</I> Never mind that the British have show great tenacity in the midst of chaos, have created some of the most beautiful art and poetry that the world has seen, or literature that has endured through the century -- very little of this aspect is shown, and to be honest, it's sad.

I have a feeling that for as long as Ms Lyall resides in the UK, she's going to be feeling a bit of an outsider, looking in and never quite grasping the why as to she's not invited in. That's too bad, as her writing is indeed witty, and very entertaining, it's what she is saying with it all that makes it such a muddle.

Overall, this is a three star book. Not bad, not good. Just average. Perhaps this book should have been titled <I>The Anglo Phobe.</I>

<i>The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British</i>
Sarah Lyall
2008; W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
ISBN 978-0-393-05846-8

User avatar
Catherine Delors
Avid Reader
Posts: 399
Joined: August 2008
Location: Paris, London, Los Angeles
Contact:

Post by Catherine Delors » Sun October 26th, 2008, 4:52 pm

Thank you, Telynor! I saw a review of this book in the NYT, and frankly didn't feel like reading it. Your own opinion confirms this.

I spent a substantial part of 2008 in London, and, agreed, London is not England, which in turn is not the UK. But the world the author apparently describes has nothing to do with what I was navigating. Hedgehogs and Earls and country houses and suchlike may be quaint and cute (especially seen from a patronizing US standpoint) but I was living in the midst of something quite different.

At times the only woman in Western garb on my street, I now know what it is to be a minority. I shopped in a halal grocery store, the only one within walking distance, my favorite restaurant (excellent and very friendly) was Turkish, and in the other restaurant I patronized (French) the waitresses were new Europeans, as Secretary Rumsfeld would have said, with a very limited command of English, or French for that matter.

So London is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, one of the hubs of militant Islamic movements in the world. As a Parisian and an Angelena, I find it a completely exotic and fascinating place. It bears very little resemblance with what I understand is the topic of this book. Maybe the author needs to buy a Tube ticket and travel - gasp - beyond the confines of Westminster and Mayfair.

User avatar
Telynor
Bibliophile
Posts: 1465
Joined: August 2008
Location: On the Banks of the Hudson

Post by Telynor » Sun October 26th, 2008, 8:23 pm

Exactly. I found the book to be very annoying, and I was heartily fed up with it all by the end of it. Lyall comes across as the Ugly American throughout most of it, which is sad.

annis
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4585
Joined: August 2008

Post by annis » Sun October 26th, 2008, 9:49 pm

Has anyone read Charles Jennings' hilarious book "People Like Us: A Season among the Upper Classes"

He spends some time following the activities of the aristocracy and comes the conclusion that you need a hard head for alcohol and the ability to blather adlib on anything or nothing or nothing at all.It was written in 1998, but I don't imagine things have changed all that much.

User avatar
EC2
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3661
Joined: August 2008
Location: Nottingham UK
Contact:

Post by EC2 » Mon October 27th, 2008, 10:40 am

She's right about the drinking (I don't drink). It's been with us as a trait since Beowulf took his first swig in the mead hall. There's a piece about the terrible English drinking habits in Bartlett's England under the Norman and Angevin Kings, so as a national pastime it's endemic.
London thinks it's the hub of the world but it isn't. To meet the real British and absorb their essence, you do have to travel and get out into the suburbs and villages and smaller towns.
It might be interesting to read this book and as a native see how much of it gels.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

User avatar
Telynor
Bibliophile
Posts: 1465
Joined: August 2008
Location: On the Banks of the Hudson

Post by Telynor » Mon October 27th, 2008, 11:02 pm

One day I intend to get to England, and do some serious looking around. What I really want to do is hit some of the historical sites, but also not be a 'tourist' as it were. So I've been reading a lot about the English so that when I do get there, I won't be an idiot and make a fool of myself.

This book just plain rubbed me the wrong way -- yes, I did laugh through parts of it, but there was such a smug snarkiness under the surface that it was just plain insulting.


[quote=""EC2""]She's right about the drinking (I don't drink). It's been with us as a trait since Beowulf took his first swig in the mead hall. There's a piece about the terrible English drinking habits in Bartlett's England under the Norman and Angevin Kings, so as a national pastime it's endemic.
London thinks it's the hub of the world but it isn't. To meet the real British and absorb their essence, you do have to travel and get out into the suburbs and villages and smaller towns.
It might be interesting to read this book and as a native see how much of it gels.[/quote]

User avatar
EC2
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3661
Joined: August 2008
Location: Nottingham UK
Contact:

Post by EC2 » Mon October 27th, 2008, 11:14 pm

[quote=""Telynor""]One day I intend to get to England, and do some serious looking around. What I really want to do is hit some of the historical sites, but also not be a 'tourist' as it were. So I've been reading a lot about the English so that when I do get there, I won't be an idiot and make a fool of myself.

[/quote]

I'm sure you won't Telynor. Let me know as and when you do come over to the UK and we can meet up. The thing to do is to go slightly off the tourist route. Okay, you may want to see some of the traditional stuff like the Tower of London and Windsor and Stratford on Avon etc etc, but these are tourist honey pots and nastily expensive and can be a bit theme park plastic in places.
So it's a bit like Ash's experience. Don't go to Warwick castle, go to Kenilworth. Head away from London. Look at the market towns of Wiltshire, go to Winchester, to Hereford and Worcester then on into Wales via Chepstow. Go to Ludlow and visit Stokesay Castle. Go to Lincoln. Look at where the tour coaches take folk and then plan your visit slightly to the side of these - close enough for a look in if you must, but just that little bit more off the most trodden highways.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

User avatar
Vanessa
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4248
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan
Interest in HF: The first historical novel I read was Katherine by Anya Seton and this sparked off my interest in this genre.
Favourite HF book: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell!
Preferred HF: Any
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Post by Vanessa » Mon October 27th, 2008, 11:41 pm

I'm British and I do like a glass of wine but I'm not a 'lager lout'. There are a few people who do spoil it for the rest of us and give the Brits a bad name. I think the word 'football fans' springs to mind here. And we do have rather a lot of pubs, lots of lovely cosy ones too with roaring fires, etc. We have quite a few American visitors to our local pub - it's quite famous for its steaks and is always packed, a typical country pub.

There are lots of lovely places to visit in the UK, especially off the beaten track, and the people in general are friendly. We're very good at laughing at ourselves/making fun of ourselves and we have a very dry sense of humour. And perhaps we are a little eccentric! All countries have their own foibles.

I live near York and even though it is quite touristy, it is a lovely place to visit. I wouldn't bother with night-times, though, as it's full of hen and stag parties!!! We usually go mid afternoon, have a look aound and something to eat and then head home between about 8 and 9pm. You get to know what times to avoid and what days.

I just wish we had a summer when it is supposed to be summer!!! Some sun would be nice. I feel like I'm living at the North Pole at the moment.
currently reading: My Books on Goodreads

Books are mirrors, you only see in them what you already have inside you ~ The Shadow of the Wind

User avatar
Leyland
Bibliophile
Posts: 1042
Joined: August 2008
Location: Travelers Rest SC

Post by Leyland » Tue October 28th, 2008, 12:21 am

Very interesting viewpoints from Lyall and then from the people I 'know' here regarding spending time in England. I thought a visit to Ireland might interest my 13 y.o. niece, but she would rather visit London for a week, so we're thinking next June or July when she's out of school. I think I'll skip Lyall's book as I research our trip.

A week in London may be too long a time for her (whereas I could spend a week in museums and historic sites alone), so we're thinking of other places to visit over roughly eight days. I don't want to do a tour bus type package, but would rather take rail trips between selected cities or towns and then find hotel lodging on a need-a-place-to-sleep-tonight basis.

I'm a fairly independent traveler and would like find more down-to-earth than bizarre! Ashlyn and I are both very friendly and polite Southerners who just want to explore lovely England without relying on reservations and a strict schedule. Is it realistic to try to avoid being a typical tourist while not boring a young teen?
We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams ~ Arthur O'Shaughnessy, Ode

User avatar
cordaella
Scribbler
Posts: 31
Joined: September 2008
Location: West Sussex, United Kingdom

Post by cordaella » Tue October 28th, 2008, 6:55 pm

For my money, the most perceptive recent book about the English is Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox, a social anthroplogist. It's also excruciatingly funny.

A quote on the inside front page from the Birmingham Post sums it up:
Watching the English...will make you laugh out loud...("Oh, God, I do that!" and cringe simultaneously ("Oh God, I do that as well.") This is a hilarious book which just shows us for what we are...beautifully observed. It is a wonderful read for both the English and those who look at us and wonder why we do what we do. Now they'll know.

Post Reply

Return to “By Author's Last Name G-L”