My enormous thanks to the author of Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers, Peter Fiennes, for offering me a copy of the book in return for an honest review, and to Margot Weale at Oneworld publishers for making sure Footnotes got to me!
Published by Oneworld on 5th September 2019, Footnotes is available for purchase through the publisher links here.
Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers
In each walk, a scene. In each journey, a story. To tread any well-travelled path is to step upon layers of history and to add to them. What was seen by yesterday’s rambler? Who were they? What was their Britain?
Peter Fiennes follows in the footsteps of writers, spiritualists, economists, farmers, churchmen and artists, from the eleventh century to the twentieth. Traversing past and present, he searches for signs of what his absent guides once saw and, through their words, opens up a new way of seeing what is there today. Footnotes is full of wonders and wanders, old stories and fresh connections, worn roads and wild places. It is a mesmerising quest to picture these isles anew.
Fiennes’s fellow travellers include Enid Blyton (Isle of Purbeck, Swanage, Weymouth); Wilkie Collins (Cornwall, Plymouth, Land’s End, Looe, St Ives); Ithell Colquhoun (Lamorna Cove); Celia Fiennes (Glastonbury, Wells, Bath, Bristol, Gloucester, Hereford); Gerald of Wales (Hereford, Hay on Wye, Newport, Cardiff, St Davids, Snowdonia); Somerville & Ross (north Wales); JB Priestley & Beryl Bainbridge (Stoke, Liverpool, Manchester, Blackpool, Bradford, Newcastle, York, Hull); Charles Dickens (Lake District, Doncaster, London); Johnson & Boswell (Edinburgh, Skye, Aberdeen).
My Review of Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers
One man’s personal journey in the footsteps of twelve writers.
I opened Footnotes with some trepidation as I feared I might be about to read a worthy, but rather dry and self-conscious tome that I felt I ‘ought’ to enjoy. Not a bit of it; I was completely wrong. Peter Fiennes has a lively and witty style that made me smile often and brought me both fun and entertainment as well as considerable detail and new information. I loved the quality of the prose. The variety of sentence length seemed perfectly attuned to the effect Peter Fiennes was creating at any given time and the beauty of descriptions is matched by a humour and level of observation I thoroughly enjoyed.
It may have helped that Footnotes opens begins with Enid Blyton, whom I grew up with and whose The Ship of Adventure was the first book I read completely independently as a child in the 1960s, but I found Peter Fiennes not only transported me to my personal past, he gave me superb descriptions of the British landscape through his frequently poetic style. His depiction of what Gerald of Wales might find in modern day Cardiff, for example, is a veritable cornucopia for the senses with everything from music to vaping illustrated perfectly. In Footnotes the reader can find social history, geography, poetry, prose and considerable drama in the lives of the authors explored.
Although I treally enjoyed finding out more about the authors featured, even more I liked discovering Peter Fiennes through his own writing. There’s a real sense of a man who cares about his environment, our history and those who have, or will, pass through it. I appreciated his humour and his ability to make quite bold statements about life with sometimes quite informal language, so that reading Footnotes gave me much to ponder after I’d finished reading it.
Footnotes is a smashing read because it encompasses so many genres in one book. Part travelogue, part history, part memoir, part guidebook, part literary catalogue, it’s accessible, entertaining and erudite. Footnotes would make a super gift for any book lover.
About Peter Fiennes
Peter Fiennes is the author of To War with God, a moving account of his grandfather’s service in WWI and of Oak and Ash and Thorn (Oneworld) a Guardian Best Nature Book of the Year. As a publisher for Time Out, he published their city guides, as well as books about Britain’s countryside and seaside. He lives in Wandsworth, south-west London.