Magazine article The Spectator

Rescued by Reindeer

Magazine article The Spectator

Rescued by Reindeer

Article excerpt

ONTRYING TO KEEP STILL by Jenny Diski Little, Brown, £15.99, pp. 307, ISBN 0316725250 . £12.79 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

'Something about the idea of being a travel writer distresses me, ' laments Jenny Diski in the introduction of her book. 'So, ' she continues, 'this is not a travel book.' Well, distressing as this news may be to both author and reader, this is a travel book. All travel writers have their foibles. Some wish to delight their audience with tales of dangerous adventure.

Others strive to amuse their public with wry and witty observations. Jenny Diski's sole purpose is to do nothing. She wants to keep still.

Her deeply uninspiring book slithers into action when she jets off to New Zealand to attend an International Writers' Festival. Hey-ho, what a drag.

The thoughtless organisers of this festival have the temerity to expect our hapless heroine to attend lunches, launches and cocktail parties. How dare they pay for her flight and set her up in a posh hotel when anyone can see that all she wants to do is stay at home and be left in peace? When she is able to escape this tiresome social whirl, Jenny spends her time e-mailing a friend at home, 'complaining about being jet-lagged and overwrought'.

Worse is yet to come -- there are Maori greeting ceremonies to endure.

'I have never been so greeted in my life, ' Diski expostulates. 'The first was a surprise, the second felt more like an assault, the third and later ones I skipped ... And we white international authors, properly liberal, stood in our best or least creased party clothes, smiling gratefully at the assault.'

Honestly! Have these 'eye-rolling, tongue-lolling, bellowing' Maoris no consideration? So much for New Zealand.

We next encounter Jenny staying at a farmhouse in Somerset where she is able to reign, sans subjects, as the Queen of Inertia. Away from Maoris and tedious international writers, she basks in her freedom to slump in an uninterrupted bout of lethargy. Unfortunately for the reading public, however, she is doing something;

she is driving us barmy by writing chapter after chapter about what it is like to do nothing. Her descriptions of nothingness are padded out with grumpy ramblings about spiders and the nuisance of having to go out. …

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