I’ve been a fan of Bill Bryson ever since I read Notes from a Small Island – Bryson’s wry voice and ability to bring out the interesting in the mundane captivated me. I picked this book up expecting something similar, and was left feeling a bit underwhelmed.
This book covers Bryson’s travels in Europe in 1990, interspersed with flashbacks to a summer backpacking trip he undertook in his college days. The book covers a multitude of locations across Europe, with most of the usual culprits – Norway, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy etc. This is partly the problem – Bryson hits the popular tourist spots, and doesn’t delve into the history of each place much, instead choosing to focus on the stereotypes of the places and the people. When I read Notes from a Small Island, I was both discovering Great Britain’s small towns through the eyes of someone who observed even little things, as well as laughing my head off at his observations. I felt that sorely lacking in this book, which seemed more like an entitled American tourist playing up European stereotypes. Which is not to say that anything he observes is untrue, but well, even a blockhead would have observed that.