The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around Great Britain

by Paul Theroux

Hardcover, 1983

Call number

914 THE



Houghton Mifflin (T) (1983), 353 pages


Fiction. Literature. HTML: After eleven years as an American living in London, the renowned travel writer Paul Theroux set out to travel clockwise around the coast of Great Britain to find out what the British were really like. The result is this perceptive, hilarious record of the journey. Whether in Cornwall or Wales, Ulster or Scotland, the people he encountered along the way revealed far more of themselves than they perhaps intended to display to a stranger. Theroux captured their rich and varied conversational commentary with caustic wit and penetrating insight..

Media reviews

Mr. Theroux is never less than readable, and many of his observations are disturbingly to the point. One scene, when his railway carriage of polite, self- effacing English folk is invaded by violent, swearing skinheads, will stick in the memory for a long time. It is exactly the sort of thing that
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happens often and everybody pretends not to notice. His perception of the kingdom of the sea may be a partial one, and in my view jaundiced, but it makes a stimulating book for all that.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member jcbrunner
Traveling along the whole coast of the United Kingdom sounds like a daunting task. The joy of traveling in Great Britain is that one can reach any place reasonably fast by road or train by its hub and spoke system centered on London. Relying on the failing tangential railroads and doing it at the
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nadir of "Britain isn't working" and the Falkland War is a guarantee for misery. Arriving in Bristol after having traveled across the South of England, Theroux' enthusiasm is mostly spent. A cantankerous, middle-aged man, living out of his rucksack, discovers the tragedies of a salesman to nowhere.

Theroux spends an inordinate amount of time and space complaining about his lodgings and the food (which given the national penchant of not-complaining can be awful indeed). Instead of enjoying the sights, going to theaters, museums and exhibitions, Theroux chats with the staff and owners of the miserable establishments as well as the elderly, the unemployed and the unemployable he happens to meet while life passes him by. It feels a bit like the movie Sideways without stopping by the wineries. The strange portioning of the chapters reflects some of Theroux' frustration: Ten chapters from London to Brighton, three for Wales, three for Northern Ireland, four for Scotland (where he nearly meets the Queen), four for Northern England and only two for the West coast. At the end, he just wants to return home, which is not only an English but a universal feeling. I hope he is less grumpy in his travel across China.
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LibraryThing member wenestvedt
Whereas I loved "Riding the Iron Rooster," in this book I only heard Theroux going around the British coast, whingeing about this and that.
LibraryThing member turtlesleap
I enjoy old travel books and tend to pick them up at local book sales if they look halfway promising . This one is a narrative of Theroux' experiences as he spent three months on a trip he undertook to circumnavigate Great Britain. The books is dated, of course. It was written in the mid-1980's
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before the channel tunnel was complete and reflects the time in which it was written quite entertainingly. There's nothing quite like looking back on an era you've lived through from a vantage point of 30 years experience to make you see your own generation's absurdity clearly. Sadly, most people would find the book boring at this remove and that's a pity because it's a lovely way to take a peek at a time and place that have gone forever.
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LibraryThing member Esta1923
Reading this book is like taking a slow walk. (I had taken it off of my shelf when "slow reading" was needed....and it worked.) I have read the reviews and checked those that agree with my satisfaction. To sum it up: if you want to go on a slow walk around Britain without leaving home this may
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possibly be the book for you.
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LibraryThing member Nero56
Theroux manages to suck most of the fun out of this area.
LibraryThing member Smiley
Theroux begins to be unenjoyably grumpy in this one.
LibraryThing member untraveller
Portions of the Mother Land are fun, others are not. Theroux does a really nice job in dissecting and winnowing out the worm from the apple. Most was fun to read....especially the part about Wales and Cape Wrath.
LibraryThing member danoomistmatiste
A circuit around the english coastline which is for the most part quite depressing. The death of industry, closure of rail routes has led to third world living conditions in many of the cities that hug the coast.
LibraryThing member sarcher
I just finished my second read through and this might be my favorite Theroux travel writing. The Falklands home front reminds me of the prevailing attitude of Americans these days, locked in a forever war where it's about 'our boys' and the remoteness of the conflict strips it all of all meaning
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for those cheering on the violence.
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LibraryThing member IaninSheffield
Far too melancholic, picking out the worst features in the places visited before finding any positives ... if at all.
One of the rare occasions I didn't want to make the time to complete a book.
LibraryThing member nmele
Paul Theroux is often a stunning writer but always an unpleasant person, at least in my view. This account of a journey around the coast of Great Britain is hampered by his misanthropic view of the elderly, the people of England, and the state, circa 1982, of Britain's railways and seaside resorts.
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He does examine some aspects of the people and places he visits minutely, like the railroad buffs whom he despises. Skip this unless you are a Theroux fan.
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LibraryThing member sblock
Grumpy but entertaining.
LibraryThing member adzebill
Delightfully ascerbic, and a time capsule of early '80s Britain—further removed from us that Theroux was from the Second World War that features in so many of the stories of the people he met, during his three-month clockwise journey of the coastal UK. I was recommended this by the podcast
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Backlisted, in which Andy Miller read the book's tour de force: a two page profile of the stereotypical British seaside town ("The muddy part of the shore was called the Flats, the marshy part the Levels, the stony part the Shingles, the pebbly part The Reach, and something a mile away was always called The Crumbles. The Manor, once very grand, was now a childrens' home. Every Easter two gangs from London fought on Marine Parade…") which ends with "It was raining."
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