Foreigner Adrian Gill (a Scot) goes in search of the essence of England and the English
The English are naturally, congenitally, collectively and singularly, livid much of the time. In between the incoherent bellowing of the terraces and the pursed, rigid eye-rolling of the commuter carriage, they reach the end of their tethers and the thin end of their wedges. They're incensed, incandescent, splenetic, prickly, touchy and fractious. They sit apart on their half of a damply disappointing little island, nursing and picking at their irritations.
Perhaps aware that they're living on top of a keg of fulminating fury, the English have, throughout their history, come up with hundreds of ingenious and bizarre ways to diffuse anger or transform it into something benign. Good manners and queues, roundabouts and garden sheds, and almost every game ever invented from tennis to bridge. They've built things, discovered stuff, made puddings, written hymns and novels, and for people who don't like to talk much, they have come up with the most minutely nuanced and replete language ever spoken - just so there'll be no misunderstandings. In this hugely witty, personal and readable book, A.A. Gill looks anger and the English straight in the eye.
He writes for the London Sunday Times and lives in Britain, but rapier-wit social critic Gill wants readers of this provocatively perceptive dissection of English cultural mores to know he was born a Scotsman, thank you very much, and is most definitely not an "enigmatically indecipherable" Englishman. In 16 defiantly abrasive essays, Gill bristles with outrageous originality about cliched topics like England's class system ("unfair, cruel, and above all smug"); gardening ("the great English cultural expression"); British accents ("a never-ending source of subtle snobbery"); and kindness to animals ("gives them an excuse to patronize, bully, and be psychologically spiteful to other people"). Elsewhere, he balances droll bombast with surprising outbursts of admiration for the British way. He's a fan of the nation's war memorials, praising them, without a hint of sarcasm, as sublime expressions of the "exhausted relief" that shrouded England after the First World War. And he admires the country's propensity for queues, concluding that the Second World War was won or not lost through the orderly evacuation by both navy destroyers and rowboats after the disastrous battle of Dunkirk. Gill's caustic ruminations often veer into over-the-top hyperbole, but these essays, brimming with incendiary certitude, also offer nuggets of truth.