Adventures in Bookland: 1847 by Turtle Bunbury


Before reviewing this book I must do something unusual: I must review the author’s name. Has there ever been a better name bestowed upon a writer? I  aver that there has not. It is the juxtaposition of dissimilarity that makes it so unique, the elision of armoured testudo with cricketing rabbits, the juxtaposition of slow, considered movement with the sparkle of celebrity sport. Surely such a name tells of parental genius. The question arises though: can the writer live up to his name?

Almost. The title tells the tale. It’s the story of a year, a year rendered significant for the Turtle as the time when the building of his family home, a great pile of a place in County Carlow, Ireland, was begun. Not perhaps the most obvious time to start such a project, as Ireland was in the midst of the Great Famine that saw a million people die and a million more emigrate. But, as the Turtle shows in this book, such a year will reverberate through the world, setting off ripples in all sorts of unexpected places. Bunbury follows the year through, telling its history through the lives of people affected by the events of the year. Some are Irish, part of the diaspora already gone from the island but, hearing the news, responding to it. Others merely share the calendar.

This tells the book’s strength and weakness. It’s a chronicle, connected only by time and, when finishing it, one is struck by the same thought that arises upon watching Stephen Fry on QI. Yes, it’s all very witty and sharp, but what, exactly, is the point? If wit and sharpness are reason enough then buy this book: it will delight. If, on the other hand, you require some uniting, narrative thread for your explorations in the 19th century, read the Flashman books instead.


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