Literature, Reviews

Review: Attlee, Isolarion

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The May 9 Sydney Morning Herald includes an excellent review of James Attlee’s new book, Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey. Praising Attlee for his ability to transform a seemingly mundane trip down Oxford’s Cowley Road—a side-street just minutes from the author’s doorstep—into a fascinating travelogue of his adventures through the exotic and the extraordinary, reviewer Bruce Elder writes:

Having lived in south Oxfordshire for seven years in the 1970s I have traveled up and down Oxford’s Cowley Road, which runs from Magdalen Bridge to the famous Morris car works, literally thousands of times. In all those journeys, not once did it occur to me that the rich diversity of cafes, shops, pubs, galleries and houses would be the suitable subject for a travel book. What a great idea. …
Part of the appeal of this remarkable book is the way each shop manages to fire the author’s imagination. Thus a visit to a jeweller includes references to Shakespeare, Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, Petrarch and Charlemagne and the porn shop on the corner evokes Lucretius, St Jerome and even the Bible. Each experience opens up worlds of associations and slowly the street becomes the world. Attlee describes in meticulous detail each place—right down to the misspellings on the walls—and thus the book becomes a series of vignettes connected by the road. In this he echoes the style adopted by Bruce Chatwin in his groundbreaking travel book In Patagonia. The vignettes, like marks on a painting by a pointillist, eventually coalesce to become a beautiful work of art.

Read an excerpt from the book.