Across the Pond by Terry Eagleton

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Across the Pond by Terry Eagleton

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: A look at life on both sides of the pond, this pits Brits against Yanks with interesting results.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: February 2013
Publisher: W. W. Norton and Co
ISBN: 978-0393347647

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Terry Eagleton is a Brit (Manchester born, no less) who now lives in Dublin with his American wife and children, so he seems well placed to write a book about the difference between us and them, there Yanks. Mid way through the pages, he even stops to tell us that in a way he had to write this, because when he wishes to read a book, he writes it. To read someone else’s, he suggests, is ‘an unwarranted invasion of their personal space’. That’s how so very British he is.

This book is a big of a hodge podge of observations about the two nations, and although the subtitle is An Englishman’s view of America at least as much time is devoted to examining the British way of doing things, our language, culture and so on. There’s also a fair number of references to the Irish, another nation in itself as we all know (though some Americans may forget).

The sections are short, loosely grouped by theme into chapters, but it is definitely a train of thought kind of structure that takes you off in odd but not unpleasant directions. Indeed, one of the pleasures of this book is not quite knowing what’s going to come up next. For an academic, this is a surprisingly personal book, but personal it is, full of judgements and generalisations and statements of fact that some may beg to differ with, but which are worth considering as long as you bear in mind they are, at times, a single person’s view point. I feel the author’s age also shows through, as does his background as an erstwhile Oxford don, for some of his observations seem to miss the point that our two countries are now so inextricably linked that the lines are very much blurred. For example by his reckoning I must be an American for the way I acknowledge words of thanks, or spend as much time as possible overseas, and not just in climatically blessed destinations.

At the same time, for the most part I found the book entertaining and relished some of his musings on areas I’d not really considered before. I very much enjoyed his observations on the wide-mouthed American actresses and the wonderful notion that if you want something enough you can make it happen. Clearly wanting Osama bin Laden dead was, as he says, something the US wanted so much more than abolishing poverty, hence making the former happen while the latter still lingers. His observations about being able to tell someone’s social class or region or origin, or in the case of the Irish, their religion, simply by looking at their bone structure made me smile, because it’s something I’ve said for ages and always been put down upon for.

I didn’t find this book offensive in any way (though I feel the potential could be there), but I did take it with a pinch of salt because I knew to what extent I agreed or didn’t with his statements about the British, and used this as a measure of how to take his observations on the Americans when it came to areas I was unfamiliar with. I almost wonder whether it would be of most entertainment to readers who were from neither nation under the spotlight, though I’m not quite sure why they’d choose to read it in the first place.

It is an interesting book as a one off, but it didn’t make me want to rush out and buy any of his earlier works, in the way finishing my first Bill Bryson did. It was missing something – a little charm, perhaps, or observations with more concrete evidence to back them up. It took me a while to finish as it wasn’t quite the book I expected. But then by Eagleton’s reckoning, perhaps I should write my own in that case.

Thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.

If you really want to know more about life on our side of the pond, the Bookbag's list of Top Ten Books about Britain, Britishness, and the Brits has some great entries, starting with A Field Guide To The British by Sarah Lyall which is the reverse of this book, with an American journo taking a closer look at our fair or not so fair isle.

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