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Saturday 12 June 2021

Review: Duncan Minshull (Ed.), Sauntering: Writers Walk Europe


I bought this because I  read a favourable review and because I sometimes write essays which describe a walk. The book was a pleasure to read, not least because it is produced to Notting Hill edition standards. It slipped into my pocket and I took it with me on a couple of walks which would be punctuated by stops at park benches.

Duncan Minshull  illustrates things which are not specific to his theme. First, that there are very many forgotten, out of print, and (helpfully) out of copyright books which contain very readable material. Second, that short extracts - there are over fifty  in this hundred and fifty page book - if well stitched together (which they are) can add up to more than the sum of their parts.

Some of his authors are very well known, others entirely forgotten. Some walk a lot as a commitment or a pastime; others happen to walk for one reason or another - not always willingly: Nellie Bly stumbles in muddy First World War trenches because it’s her job as a journalist; Robert Antelme is on a Second World War death march. Some tell us more about themselves than the terrain they pass through; some make us laugh - the vigorous Elizabeth von Arnim has a couple of the best lines; some evoke a past - Edith Wharton does it brilliantly. Thomas Jefferson comes out well from a very short extract in which he obtains a poor person’s story.

Elizabeth von Arnim is anxious about walking alone and George Sand solves the problem by cross-dressing. Minshull’s walkers have little to say about thieves, cut-throats, child hawkers (my own memory of Istanbul), or beggars. None stroll the red light districts of Europe’s cities and none (if I recall correctly) are walking in search of work.

It was a very pleasant stroll to read this book.

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