Wednesday, December 09, 2009

book review - The Ancient Shore - Shirley Hazzard and Francis Steegmuller

Travel journals are not a genre that has previously featured in my ‘to be read pile’. But the joys of Twitter are that you can share the enthusiasm someone has for a book then find yourself lucky enough to get if after they have finished reading it. Such was the case with this book.

The rewards of being open minded are that you can be transported into Naples without having to leave your seat. Clearly the authors, who both write chunks of the story, are in love with the City but not blindly being prepared to acknowledge the crime and disrepair.

But what they manage to do in a reasonably slim volume is provide you with a feel for Naples that you could only get from actually going there. The history is provided but crucially it is where the history impacts the present where things are concentrated. How come the great city fell into such a state and why crime is so prevalent are some of the questions that are dealt with.

In fact the second part of the book covers the experience that Steegmuller has being a victim of a snatch and grab criminal on a moped. Being dragged along the pavement after failing to release the grip on the bag he ends up in a serious state in hospital. But the experience with the witnesses, ambulance drivers and doctors is one that reaffirms the basic idea that Neapolitans are good people and the place is special.

After closing the book you realise that perhaps there is a middle way between a straight travelogue and some sort of dry guide book. The personality here is Naples and not the authors and as a result it makes the experiences they write about feel accessible to all.

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