Access All Areas: Selected Writings 1990-2010 by Sara Wheeler
|Access All Areas: Selected Writings 1990-2010 by Sara Wheeler|
|Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis|
|Summary: A collection of articles too concentrated for quick reading, Sara Wheeler's biographical research and travels over the past twenty years have given her an authoritative fund of information on people and places from North to South Poles. Fascinating.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: April 2011|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape|
|External links: Author's website|
This is a great book to acquire if your general knowledge of historical adventurers is as haphazard as mine. Somewhere along the line, I'd missed out on Scott and Shackleton, and it's very satisfying indeed to fill those gaps from such a reliable informant. One brisk section, for example, managed to encapsulate both Antartica's history and further outlook, along with sufficient atmospheric detail to ensure we mortals understood just what it feels like to sleep in Scott's hut during a wintry gale.
Sara Wheeler is a prolific author with a longstanding fascination for the colder, lonelier parts of the planet. In this new project, she brings together a personal selection of reprinted articles which illustrate her development as a travel writer, biographer, book reviewer and woman over the past twenty years. The book is divided into five self-explanatory sections with a commentary, which narrates and reflects on some of the backstory. Just as well, since the abrupt changes of background between some of the articles would otherwise be quite bewildering.
The combination of authoritative research and lived experience had this idiosyncratic collection standing out from the pile beside my bed. This isn't a book to devour in a concentrated sitting, but a couple of articles of a bedtime do slip down beautifully.
It's a funny old title and perhaps a bit of a misnomer. Yes, the travelling over twenty years runs between extremes: Antarctic and Arctic; Patagonia and Russia; Bangladesh and the QE2 in the South Pacific Ocean: truly all areas. But I'm not so sure about access. Like her stiff upper-lipped Victorian adventurers, much has to be gleaned from asides about Sara Wheeler's personal life and I doubt she gives more away than is already public knowledge. I particularly enjoyed the story of travelling on one leg of a round the World cruise, partly because it was such a contrast to what had gone before, but even more so because it was a behind-the-scenes look at journalists at work, and the difficulty of remaining professional with a baby attached. I do so like those personal touches.
On the other hand Sara Wheeler discloses her faults very openly. She sounds hugely self-critical and it's clearly taken these two decades to come to terms with the wandering loner and wild child sliding into domesticity. I'd guess it's the mediocrity of everyday life she finds unbearable.
What I admired most about this book was the highly polished writing, dense with information yet edited almost to the point of nudity. Writing this well must be a very time consuming process. Sara Wheeler tends to be apologist of her earlier stylistic 'clunkiness' as she calls it, but I think she's over-critical. Even as a young writer, her style is elegant and there's never a cliché to grate. In general, her approach rejects imaginative fantasies in favour of empathy, when reporting the difficulties that her subjects have to surmount to succeed in their extraordinary endeavours. Instead, she uses literary and historical research to great effect.
I'd admit this book is maybe more literary than popular, but I really enjoyed the reading of it. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
Suggestions for further reading
If you enjoyed this book, then Sara Wheeler's travels in the Arctic: Magnetic North might appeal. And now my Antarctic appetite has been whetted, I think I'll be looking at Roland Huntford's The Expedition Diaries of Scott and Amundsen.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Access All Areas: Selected Writings 1990-2010 by Sara Wheeler at Amazon.com.
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