Right to the Edge: Sydney to Tokyo by Any Means by Charley Boorman

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Right to the Edge: Sydney to Tokyo by Any Means by Charley Boorman

Category: Travel
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A TV accompaniment as our author travels round part of the Pacific Rim by several unusual vehicles. It needed the life of the TV at times, but was still enjoyable.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-1847443519

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Forgive me if I'm wrong, but there seems a ever-diminishing sense of surprise with Charley Boorman's continuing adventures. One hopes at least they started with very daring, courageous, envelope-pushing exploits, where we might have doubted his success. Now he's on his fifth trip in as many years, BBC TV crew in hand as always, and we can hardly hope for much in the way of an ordeal, or doubt concerning a failure. And, as he admits, this does feel much like an add-on for his Ireland-to-Sydney trek.

Nevertheless there are copious miles to go, mountains to climb and rivers to cross, as he gets from Sydney to Tokyo, travelling roughly round the Pacific Rim, and avoiding some most insalubrious political hotspots along the way. There are bandits to avoid, volcanoes to witness, doubtful foodstuffs to taste, and more.

And as this is Charley Boorman there is manly, tech-speak adoration of vehicles. Rather than just swan everywhere with a beloved motorbike between his legs, his modes of travel have certainly widened, and here range from armoured cars, to electric bikes (which he readily admits to falling in like with), and copious planes, seacraft and more. All very cushty, you might think, but when he's island-hopping, with a particular jinx when it comes to all boats, there is a sense of risk.

I wish if anything there were a lot more senses put across by this book. The flyleaf promises his trademark humour, but at times I was actually left wanting the TV series that this accompanies, of which I've seen never a minute. I could see enough of his travels to make this recommendable, but there definitely occasions when I needed to hear his laugh, his enthusiasm, and at times even a glimpse at what he was living. He said we couldn't be in the air without seeing the [Great Barrier] Reef he admits at one point, and that's the last we ever hear of his flying over it. Argh!

He gets more descriptive and keen for everything the further away from the comfortable path of other TV travellers, however. Papua New Guinea floats his boat to some extent, a place where there are multiple languages spoken in the wilds, but violence and pragmatism speak loudest of all. He also finds a lot to adore about Indonesia. It's the best thing about these travels when he shows us this land on his TV series within weeks of horrendous earthquakes and tsunamis in the region. They'll surely benefit so much more from the world seeing some semblance of their real life, and not tragedy reportage on the news.

There is a strong sense remaining though that this is not real life, as he is accompanied by three guys at least, with their cameras, support vehicles, and a welter of knowledge when it comes to rustling up contacts, vehicles, experiences. Hence his trek out with the Australian Flying Doctors service, his being ferried about by police car (willingly, that is), naval gunship and voluntary ambulance forces. He does good with UNICEF, and is a good publicity agent for many experiences of locals, but there's still several wacky incidents put in his way for the sake of TV.

In conclusion however I was after the experiences of the TV series to propel me a lot further into that corner of the world than the book did. There certainly is more life and colour to his reportage as he progresses, and the wonderful world of the odd conveyance does become worthwhile when we see photos of the bikes made of bamboo and so on. But I was left wondering in ignorance whether this was a useful expansion of the TV series, with the balance of Boorman and his ghost writer, as opposed to the series producer's. As a standalone it could have been a lot worse - the love of engines and vehicles seems to have been reined in, and successfully and thankfully so, but without its partner it needed to be somewhat better.

I can recommend this, however, as a volume to go with the series, and a different memento of it than the hard-drive copy. If you're coming to this sideline of the travel genre without having witnessed it on TV, it might well appear a thing of vanity rather than ordeal, and this doesn't have the background and depth even of, say, Michael Palin, but still offers a valuable look at a strange side of our planet.

I must thank the kind people at Sphere for my review copy.

We at the Bookbag like travelogues regarding Asia, even if they are absolutely different from this example, as is Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle. Japan Through The Looking Glass by Alan Macfarlane is more regular, and is commended for getting us to Boorman's destination.

Buy Right to the Edge: Sydney to Tokyo by Any Means by Charley Boorman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Right to the Edge: Sydney to Tokyo by Any Means by Charley Boorman at Amazon.co.uk.

Buy Right to the Edge: Sydney to Tokyo by Any Means by Charley Boorman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Right to the Edge: Sydney to Tokyo by Any Means by Charley Boorman at Amazon.com.


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