"Do you know how sometimes on very fine days, the sun will shine with a particular intensity that makes the most mundane objects in the landscape glow with an unusual radiance, so that buildings and structures you normally pass without a glance become arresting, even beautiful? Well, they seem to have that light in Australia nearly all the time."
There are certain things I associate with Australia. Constant sunshine, tarantulas, Neighbours (its... a TV programme, not my actual neighbours. Although, having said that, the lady who lives next door is actually from Australia!), Heath Ledger, lifeguards, and long plane journeys. I think, in fact, I'd always considered the long plane journey the main factor for why I'd probably never actually see Australia, because, beautiful and hot and excellent as it might be, it's just too. Damn. Far. Away.
I think Bill Bryson has changed that for me, and also made it onto the list of things I'm just going to have to associate with Australia. This is a weird thing for me to add him to, because I absolutely think of him as 'that man who lived in England and then moved back to the US, and also is very grumpy', but there you go. A whole new category for him. And, interestingly, in Down Under, he is almost never grumpy. I don't know what it is- maybe it was the near-constant sunshine, or the goddamn awesomeness of the Australian people (you're welcome, Kayleigh), but Bryson writes about Australia with the kind of positivity that he normally only reserves for writing about science.
Not that there isn't any science in Down Under. As you'd expect from any Bryson book, there's a mix of science, natural history, history-history, drinking, anecdoting, and just general juicy travelogue goodness that he really knows how to deliver on. And, whilst he doesn't give Australia a completely easy ride (he takes the piss out of it's political system, for one, and also spends a good chunk of time focusing on the poor treatment, even today, of the aborigine people) his love for the country and its people really shines through, and, well, I'm damned if I don't want to get on a plane right now and nip on over to Australia.
Because. As Bryson says, it's a country of all the extremes- the hottest, the driest, the least livablest, the deadliest (are any of these -ests convincing you yet?) but it has things that can't be found anywhere else on the planet, including the oldest living creatures and oh, hello, The Great Barrier Reef (which I'm now obsessed with, by the way.) And whilst I've never completely ruled out going to Australia (because that would be INSANE) now I can think of at least 20 things I want to see there, just off the top of my head, and more than that, I know some of the history behind these things, too. I also know that I have absolutely no interest in going to Canberra, but that's another matter entirely.
Just as an example of just how convincing Bryson is, here's an example for you (as if this whole review isn't an example!). I feel like I've been aware of Uluru (or, Ayers Rock for the culturally insenstive among us) for just about my whole life, but I've never once felt the urge to go and see it. I mean... it's literally just this huge rock in the Australian outback. Why would I want to see it? But. Bill Bryson makes it sound like literally the most incredible thing you could possibly see ever in the world, and, well, I'm convinced and now I'm desperate to see it. I don't know if this is just because I'm really easy to persuade (I could be!) or if it's because Bryson doesn't mince words when it comes to its epicness, but... Well, just read this:
"It's not that Uluru is bigger than you had supposed or more perfectly formed or in any way different from the impression you had created in your mind, but the very opposite. It is exactly what you expected it to be. You know this rock. You know it in a way that has nothing to do with calendars and the covers of souvenir books. Your knowledge of this rock is grounded in something much more elemental.
In some odd way that you don't understand and can't begin to articulate you feel an acquaintance with it- a familiarity on an unfamiliar level. Somewhere in the deep sediment of your being some long-dormant fragment of primordial memory, some little severed tail of DNA, has twitched or stirred. It is a motion much too faint to be understood or interpreted, but somehow you feel certain that this large, brooding, hypnotic presence has an importance to you at the species level- perhaps even at a sort of tadpole level- and that in some way your visit here is more than happenstance.
I'm not saying that any of this is so. I'm just saying that this is how you feel."Basically... If I get to Uluru, and it isn't that amazing? I'm gonna be pissed, because actually getting there? Sounds like a BITCH.
And really, Bryson talks about most of Australia with this much enthusiasm, if not quite so much reverence. Towards the end of the book, I was really just turning over pages for places I wanted to visit, because that's how excellent he makes everything sound. Essentially- I liked this book a lot, but not nearly as much as I now love Australia. Which, I guess, was kind of the point of the whole thing anyway. So, well played Bryson. Again.