The Battle for Room Service: Journeys to all the
Safe, Places by Mark
Lawson, Picador. £14.99
I'VE NOTICED THAT friends who a few years ago felt driven to take holidays in ever-more remote and =touristy places like Burma and Bhutan, now shamelessly make for hotel pools in Majorca or the Algarve.
Travel writers, too, have wearied of jungles, prison cells and monkey-brain suppers; your Bill Brysons, PJ O'Rourkes and Geoff Nicholsons insist on a well-stocked bar, crisp white cotton sheets and soft loo paper.
Lawson is firmly in this new-wave, travel-writer-asslob tradition. He seeks out the quiet places: New Zealand ("dull"), Melbourne, Australia ("depressing"), Peoria, Illinois ("boring"), Vancouver ("boring"), Switzerland (with Dad, on a Thomson package holiday) and Milton Keynes ("desolate").
Lawson worked for a while at The Universe. He is good at getting laughs out of unlikely material. But reading The Battle For Room Service is rather like being stuck in a lift with a witty and engaging companion. He pulls faces and goes through his repertoire of funny voices. But sooner or later you come back to the fact that you are stuck in a lift, a predicament of limited comic potential.
We are supplied with chirpy, well-researched summaries of Canada's local history and politics. We hear the most amusing stories in the Luxembourg newspapers Lawson reads in his hotel room during his visit.We share his solitude in restaurants in America's midWest.
Lawson is determined to avoid any surprises, and he is not disappointed.The struggle to stay cheerful becomes increasingly desperate. Lawson falls back on funny stories about old girlfriends. Though evidently bored stiff he keeps plugging away, like a comedian in an empty night club.
Lawson is a likeable and very gifted writer. But no one should be asked to squeeze laughs out of the pictures in the art gallery in Dead Horse, Alaska. He deserves a decent holiday after this.
BY BRENDAN WALSH