Two titles with a travel theme – Ursula Bloom’s romantic fiction Wonder Cruise and Mr Snack and the Lady Water, a collection of travel essays from Brendan Shanahan.
Wonder Cruise Synopsis
Ann Clements is thirty-five and single, and believes nothing exciting will ever happen to her. Then, she wins a large sum of money in a sweepstake and suddenly can dare to dream of a more adventurous life. She buys a ticket for a Mediterranean cruise, against the wishes of her stern brother, the Rev. Cuthbert, who has other ideas about how she should spend her windfall.
Ann steps out of the shadows of her mundane life into the heat of the Mediterranean sun. Travelling to Gibraltar, Marseilles, Naples, Malta and Venice, Anne’s eyes are opened to people and experiences far removed from her sheltered existence in the offices at Henrietta Street, and Mrs. Puddock’s lodging house. As Anne blossoms, discovering love and passion for the very first time, the biggest question is, can there be any going back? (Corazon Books)
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Originally published by E.P. Dutton & Co (New York) in 1934, Corazon are now making this title by the late author Ursula Bloom available to new audiences.
Wonder Cruise is a classic story premise, with touches of E M Forster’s A Room With A View and A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark but never reaching the lofty heights of either. While not without an unexpected plot twist, the storyline’s progression felt inconsistent — laboured in parts, too efficient in others.
For me the value in this story lay in Bloom’s colourful descriptions of the chaotic farce that ensued as wilfully ignorant tourists imposed themselves on the ports visited. Ann Clements was a little flakier than I’d like from a female lead, but her cutting internal remarks about her fellow cruise ship passengers, particularly the eclectic group assigned to her dining table, were very amusing.
While entertaining and clearly boundary-stretching (‘fast’ even) for the time it was published, Ursula Bloom’s Wonder Cruise simply hasn’t aged as well as some of my favourite titles published in the early 1900s.
BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 2.5 / 5
Available from: Amazon
Genre: Romance, Adventure, Drama
Author Information: Ursula Bloom (1892–1984) was a prolific British novelist. She also wrote short stories, radio and stage plays, and worked as a newspaper journalist. During her career she wrote under the pen names Sheila Burns and Lozania Prole, among others. Discover more about her at www.ursulabloom.com
Mr Snack and the Lady Water Synopsis:
Travel Tales From My Lost Years
After a decade spent on the road, renowned travel writer Brendan Shanahan is back with Mr Snack and the Lady Water, a collection of darkly funny and unexpected travel writing. In the title piece, Shanahan embarks on what is supposed to be a luxury cruise, only to find himself on a three-day endurance test aboard a leaking barge on China’s Yangtze River in the company of a mysterious roommate, a pair of neurotic American spinsters and a thousand baseball-capped tourists.
Other stories include his sight-unseen, online purchase of a house in Las Vegas, his brief career in Bollywood and a meditation on white guilt in post-apartheid South Africa. Road-soiled and a touch deviant, Shanahan’s account of his ‘lost years’ are a comic master class, essential reading for anyone who has ever woken up in a strange bed or just stared at themselves in a hotel mirror at 3 am and asked ‘Where am I?’ (Melbourne University Publishing)
The comparisons to David Sedaris‘ writings are on the money – this collection of essays from Brendan Shanahan are blissfully non-PC, and darkly humorous – literally laugh-out-loud fare. Essay titles such as ‘White and Wrong’, ‘Filler in Manila’, ‘In DC Proposal’, ‘Mr and Mrs Kumar Make a Plan’ and ‘Stays in Vegas’ give a clear indication of the wry undertones.
William Yeoman points to Shanahan’s ‘ear for anecdote and an eye for the detritus of the everyday’ and Benjamin Law his ‘curiosity and pungent turns of phrase’. But it’s not merely the scrapes the author has got himself into over the years or his skills at observational humour that make this collection difficult to put down — it is his writing style and command of language.
Take this wonderful passage from the title essay ‘Mr Snack and the Lady Water’ which resonated strongly with me, having travelled in China during the mid-90s also:
In China, the cruel Darwinian imperatives of the mob overwhelm all other considerations. Personal space, the freedom to move at one’s own leisure, respiratory function: these were all very far down the list for the average Chinese tourist. The single-mindedness of the crowd was awe-inspiring. No one strayed; stragglers were harshly dealt with; obedience to their megaphone-weilding overlords was absolute. Seeing these shoving seas of baseball caps the mind moved inevitably to anthropomorphic metaphors: swarms of locusts, herds of cattle, a frantic school of fish dodging a shark. As the tour groups raced up the stairs and began to overtake, I imagined myself as a mortally wounded animal, lying immobile on the jungle floor, watching with terror the approach of ravenous swarms of soldier ants.
While the more thin-skinned may find offence in Shanahan’s darker observations, for me the author’s genuine respect for individuals and efforts* to have a positive impact on the lives of those he meets shine through the jaded exterior.
I highly recommend Brendan Shanahan’s essay collection Mr Snack and the Lady Water, Travel Tales From My Lost Years for readers that revel in the rich tapestry of life… travellers that regale friends with stories not found in the glossy brochures.
*None of us are perfect.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
Genre: Non-fiction, Humour, Adventure, Memoir
Author Information: Brendan Shanahan is a writer based in Sydney and Las Vegas. He writes regularly for various publications internationally and is the author of The Secret Life of the Gold Coast (2004) and In Turkey I am Beautiful (2008). The latter was described as ‘laugh out loud funny’ by the Sydney Morning Herald, named ‘one of the best travel books ever’ by the Sun Herald and listed in the year’s 10 best non-fiction works by ABC Radio National.
This review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2016