Author: Polly Evans
Year published: 2003
Genre: non-fiction, travel, Spain
Polly Evans, fed up with her stressful job as a journalist/editor in Hong Kong, decided to take a nice, long holiday. The obvious choice was Spain, where she had once spent a year, and so spoke the language after a fashion. She had a road bicycle built, light and strong, that would be her conveyance for the journey, and set off. The book tells of her journey, her adventures, people (and animals) she met, places she visited, along with some snippets of history. The first leg of the journey took her along the border with France, and the second through the Extremadura region in southern central Spain.
It was the title that grabbed my attention when browsing for books on TitleTrader. I checked the reviews on Amazon, saw the book was about travelling in Spain, where I spent two enjoyable weeks a couple of years ago, so I sent in a request and got the book within two weeks. For once, I was not disappointed.
Several times I have seen travel books that looked interesting, and which turned out to be disappointing. One such was a recent highly lauded book about cycling the route of the 2000 Tour de France, Tim Moore’s French Revolutions. I have no intention of comparing the two in detail, but I will say that when it comes to being funny, Polly Evans kicks Tim Moore’s sore arse. She is in some ways not as skilful a writer as Moore (this being her first book and suffering slightly from firstbookitis*), but she makes up for it by being far funnier, and I fully expect that her writing skill has improved with her next two books (about China and New Zealand, both of which I am looking forward to read). She certainly has mastered the quip, often dropping one when least expected. She also never crosses the line where self-deprecating humour turns into a self-pitying whinge. Neither does she gloss over her problems, of being out of shape and having forgotten, during her training period, that she was going to be riding with panniers full of stuff that would weigh down the bicycle and change its balance, or the fact that she knew nothing about bicycle repair - both, incidentally, problems shared with Moore.
As I mentioned before, there is are slight symptoms of firstbookitis, nothing that writing a second book can’t fix. The story feels a bit fragmented in places. There is also some unnecessary repetition (her problems with big traffic roads, for example, are repeated so often that you expect a big climactic scene of either conquering her fear and loathing or having an accident, but nothing comes of it). But these are minor problems. For the most part the book is well written, and she cleverly interweaves the historical information with her own experiences of the places she visited. 4 stars.
* firstbookitis = common mistakes in author’s first books