By Levison Wood Hodder & Stoughton,
The finest travel writing often reveals an inner journey that runs parallel to the physical. There are smatterings of it here, but Wood’s introspection tends towards the prosaic.
the country beyond the headlines, though he is supervised. He laments Mecca’s closure to nonMuslims, which he attributes to a “misplaced sense of superiority based on communal pride”.
From there it’s a long hop, skip and a jump to Jordan, Israel, Palestine (“THERE IS NO PALESTINE,” an enraged settler shouts at him in Hebron), Syria and Lebanon, via a family Christmas reunion in Bethlehem.
The finest travel writing often reveals an inner journey that runs parallel to the physical. There are smatterings of it here, but Wood’s introspection tends towards the prosaic. Near the end of the book, while ruminating on various conflicts, he concludes: “There are no good guys and bad guys, only people.” The emotional range is limited. He is variously “somewhat surprised”, “somewhat taken aback”, “comforted somewhat” and much of the time “excited”.
Sometimes the book feels as though it was written too quickly and the language is hackneyed. “This is a journey through a land steeped in history,” he writes at the outset. Later he describes himself as “addicted to life on the road”. For all that, though, he is sufficiently self- aware to understand that “I was leading a very selfish, ridiculous life” which most recently has cost him a girlfriend ( for a more literary take on the adventurer’s age- old plight, see Sylvain Tesson’s magnificent Consolations of the Forest). This, Wood promises himself, will be his last big expedition. Perhaps it will, but one suspects he will still pop up to entertain us on television.
So there you have it. What Arabia lacks in limpid prose, cultural awareness and historical insight, it makes up for in rollicking boys’ own adventure.
By arrangement with the Spectator