2004-07-21 · in Books · 270 words

As I'm turning off a roundabout on to the Tralee road, I spot a hitch-hiker who is giving a demonstration of how not to hitch-hike. Is he standing up, smiling, with his thumb out? No. he is sitting, slumped forward, with a sign round his neck, like a police mugshot of someone called Galway. He's nodding his head as he listens to a Walkman, and he has a scarier beard than Gerry Adams. Because it takes so long to type books out and sew all the pages inside the cover, you are reading this quite a while after I left Killarney; but, believe me, if you go there tomorrow, he will still be by the roundabout.

Pete McCarthy wanders the towns and backroads of Ireland, searching for — well, something; he's not quite sure what. Perhaps it's pubs bearing his name, although he seems to give up on that quest pretty quickly; maybe it's reasonably-priced Singapore noodles; or is he trying to figure out whether Ireland is his spiritual home?

The parallels to Bill Bryson's travel books are obvious, but I didn't feel that McCarthy's quite as skilled nor as entertaining as Bryson. In particular, there's a lot more explicit humour here than in Bryson's books, much of which didn't really appeal to me.

I suspect that I would have preferred this as a series of newspaper articles rather than as a book. There are certainly good bits — the introduction, and the chapter about St. Patrick's Purgatory, for example — but it wasn't strong enough as a whole for me to recommend.