Review: Atlee, Isolarion
James Attlee’s scholarly, reflective, and sympathetic journey up the Cowley Road is one of the best travel books that has been written about Britain’s oldest university city. It is not—at least not directly—the Oxford of punts and gowns. His raw material is diversity: the Cowley Road as a corner of the outside world, where change and excitement are squeezed into the cramped hinterland of the scholarly theme park of the city centre. …
Isolarion, named after a detail on a medieval map, is unsparing, but not bleak. It blends humour and passion… [into] a vivid account of daily life, fluid and unsettling, in a modern British town with powerful allegorical reflections on the connections between past and present, time and space, and high culture and the hard scrabble world that sustains it. Oxford may be the city of lost causes, and this book is indeed ambitious; it could easily sound sententious or twee. But it works, gloriously.
We have an excerpt from Isolarion. The excerpt is the chapter titled “Further Purification of the Pilgrim,” in which Attlee experiences ritual immersion at the Eau-de-Vie Flotation Centre.