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Even the rocks can kill you.
am 31. Juli 2000
Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country (Broadway, 2000)
availability: it's on the bestseller list innit?
I originally encountered the writing of Bill Bryson in a small article he wrote for National Geographic on the Orkney Islands a year or so ago. By the time I had finished the article, I was (and still am, to an extent) seriously considering relocating to the Orkney Islands. Well, I've now finished In a Sunburned Country, Bryson's travelogue of Australia-- and I never, ever want to go there.
Bryson gives us the world's forgotten continent (really, how many of you who don't live there can name Australia's Prime Minister?), mixing personal experience, history, and bewilderment in roughly equal doses. While the history does bog down in places, I found myself-- especially in the book's first section-- glad that I was the only person in the room while reading it, since I might well have been committed involuntarily for laughing so hard in stretches. The most disturbing thing is that I was laughing about the sheer number of things in Australia which are capable of killing human beings. This is not a place you should go if you fear death. "The sea snakes are especially unnerving, not because they are aggressive, but because they are inquisitive. Stray into their territory and they'll come to check you out, all but rubbing against you in the manner of cats seeking affection. They are the most sweet-tempered creatures in existence. But cross them or alarm them and they can hit you with enough venom to kill three grown men." Not only will the unfriendly creatures kill you, the friendly ones will as well!
Those who have read more Bryson than I have hastened to say that this is a less humorous book than his others. I'm not sure I could stand the others, for I might die of asphyxia before reaching the end of chapter one. This is good stuff, funny most of the time, sobering on rare occasions, and always edifying. And don't be concerned if you forget three quarters of what's in here by the time you're finished, including the name of Australia's present prime minister (or the name of the silicon-tipped grass I've been wracking my brain for for a week now). According to Bryson, there's something about Australia that causes people to forget it exists, so as long as you remember there are seven continents on this planet, you're ahead of the game. ***