Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Ramblings in Ireland" a Charming Sojourn

I'm going to open my review of Kerry Dwyer's Ramblings in Ireland by quoting  Kerry's self-commentary. I couldn't possibly improve on this bit for pinpointing the charm of her travelogue-plus book, which she describes as "a memoir of sorts": 

"There is a lovely French expression 'il ne perd pas le nord.'  Literally this means 'he doesn't lose the north.' It means someone who knows exactly what they want and where they are going.  They are focused on their target and don't lose track of it.

"That doesn't describe me at all."

I laughed  out loud, partly because  I'm one of those people fixed on the goal. But focus doesn't  help one be a more sensitive partner or a more observant traveler, which is often required where cultural differences come into play--she's British, her husband is French, and they're rambling through Ireland.  The book is a memoir primarily because it is more than the sum of its walking tours, which sometimes end in disaster.  The bittersweet experience of going off track is the point of Kerry's work and also the nature of the experience one has  in reading it. 

I haven't been to Ireland, so I don't know whether  the descriptions are perfectly apt or not.  I can say I found them enjoyable to read.  It's not fiction, so I don't have to judge the plausibility of theme and characters.  However,  some themes  emerge, as do well-rounded characters, principally the author and her husband, who come to know one another much better for their wander.  The dialogue is sometimes over-used, but it helps to establish the reader's bond with the characters.  

There are nine chapters with brief titles (such as Underwear and Walkingsticks ).  These derive, cunningly,  from a list she jots down before the trip of "things I didn't want to forget."  I found the first couple of chapters a bit slow--airports and bags don't interest me.  Chapters I particularly liked were "Walking Boots," which includes a useful  bit on the difference between a full English and a full Irish breakfast; "Maps," which delves into the way accents both join and separate people; and "Underwear," which has some truly beautiful nature descriptions.  Though the book remains primarily personal and doesn't rise to the level of great literary travel writers or diarists,  it's worth reading.