Book Review: The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour:  The European Adventure Of A Continental Drifter, by Tim Moore

Once you become familiar with this author and his approach, as this is the fourth book of his I have read, you have a great deal of insight into what to expect.  This book delivers what one would expect on the surface level–the author engages in some sort of ridiculous but historically significant travel stunt and shows himself as an English lout abroad.  He attempts to live both the high life and the low life and tries to avoid making his behavior heroic–mock heroism is a guise he adopts often–in order to correspond to our contemporary tastes for irony and in order to avoid being the subject of envy.  If you have read humorous travel writing before [1], you know what to expect with a great deal of the material here, where the author seeks to follow the itinerary of the first known English grand tourist, a tragic figure by the name of Thomas Coryate, whose attempts at gaining respect backfired and led him to increasingly desperate attempts at travel that ultimately ended with his death in India.  Like some of his other books, then, this is a book that offers a great deal of humor but also has a lot of melancholy undergirding it.

In terms of its contents, this book is written with a few mostly long chapters that take up over 350 pages of written material.  This book is truly a grand one in its scope, showing the author in a used Rolls Royce attempting to live on the cheap while following the itinerary of Coryate’s Grand Tour in the early 1600’s.  Naturally, being almost monolingual, the author finds himself having trouble with people in other places, finds frightening places to sleep, and even manages to illegally park in front of a police station at one point.  His itinerary takes him through some fairly familiar cities in France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands, and his observations are not necessarily cruel.  For example, he finds Padua an amazing city once its circular geography is understood but finds himself with a great aversion to Venice, a city which in his estimation is doomed to demographic failure because of the shortage of children.  The author also demonstrates a wide degree of knowledge for the follies of English travelers abroad and apparently has to deal with a lot of Gary Glitter jokes because apparently joking about pedophilia is funny to some people, I guess.

What I found most worthwhile about this book, though, was those sadder and more melancholy moments that the author demonstrates here beneath the veneer of surface comedy.  Ultimately, it is the book’s genuinely more touching moments that earned my respect the most.  There is, of course, the tragedy of the poor but earnest Thomas Coryate seeking respect that he will never find and eventually despairing of life while abroad in India, who never received the respect he deserved despite introducing the English to the habit of a grand tour and also introducing the fork and the umbrella to England as a result of his European travels.  There is the tragedy of Tom Moore’s continual heroic journeys that he feels necessary to disguise as campy and mock-heroic travels because he feels that an earnest and sincere effort will not be appreciated.  The author even expresses a feeling of sadness for the loss of national identity in the face of growing European unity, the feeling that it will be unnecessary in the future for English to travel to other places because European unity will lead to a depressing sameness between countries, a worry I think that the author overstates, thankfully, even if the thought appears to oppress him somewhat.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: The Grand Tour

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