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An Audience with an Elephant: And Other…

An Audience with an Elephant: And Other Encounters on the Eccentric Side

by Byron Rogers

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This is a quite wonderful book of essays, although it's very hard to describe as none of the words which come to mind quite do it justice. It is charming and offbeat, but both those words make it sound cutesy, which it definitely isn't - there's a desert-dry humour, as well as a deep sense of humanity, behind these essays. (To quote the start of one of the driest, about Rogers' accidental stint as a speechwriter to Prince Charles: "[the Prince's Private Secretary] had always been careful of speech to the point where you fancied you saw semicolons form in air. But this time he sounded as though English were a foreign language in which he was taking an oral exam.")

Rogers' interest is in English villages, and the individual human lives within them, both now and the traces that are left from the past. He has an eye for the quirky - one essay deals with what "the last Turkish POW in British hands", a tortoise captured at Gallipoli - but in fact, his interest is in the tortoise's owner, and how the story of the tortoise came to define his life. Even when he's writing about Roman tombstones, Rogers manages to bring to life the individual characters buried under them.

Truly a gem.

Recommended for: anyone with an indulgent eye for English eccentricity. ( )
  wandering_star | Sep 25, 2009 |
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"An Audience with an Elephant is a compendium of the oddest and most eccentric travels - a travel book to set alongside Norman Lewis or Eric Newby for the sheer unpredictability of its encounters and its surreal comedy. But Byron Rogers didn't venture to the ends of the earth to find singular custom and heroic idiosyncrasy: he had no need to. These are journeys to the heart of the strange and distant land of Britain." "On his travels he meets the last Turkish POW in British hands - an ancient tortoise captured at Gallipoli and now resident in Great Yarmouth - and the teenaged elephant who has opened more fetes and supermarkets than any TV celebrity. Here, too, are such bizarre figures as an octogenarian triathlete, the man who (before such things were banned) held every world eating record, and the last hangman in his untroubled retirement. Rogers rides on the 'ghost' train to Stalybridge (which travels but once a week, through closed stations, in one direction only), seeks out long-lost gunpowder factories and a man who fell to earth, and - after recruitment as speech-writer to the Prince of Wales - becomes a courtier. Whether exploring the middle of England in the forgotten county of Northamptonshire or accompanying the last tramp through the wilder reaches of Wales, Byron Rogers chronicles a secret history of Britain that is touching, hilarious, even magical - and the extraordinary lives of ordinary people."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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