This is an unusual book about the visitors – both real and fictional – to the lovely city of Bath, and it is hugely entertaining. In the first instance the stories are about those who chose to live in the city or at least make long visits there, from the earliest times of semi mythical kings, to the present day. After the story, usually very funny, with many puns and in jokes or references to the context, there is a short piece which gives the real facts. That can take the form of mini biographies of the characters where they are known to history, or the suggestions of where the characters may have been mentioned in various texts. There are also suggestions for books for the background of the characters and particular period of time represented. At the end of the book there is a full book list and list of websites that give the context of the story, which helps to show that the author has completed a lot of research in the writing of this book.
The main character in this book is undoubtedly the city of Bath itself in its various incarnations, with a true appreciation of its developed beauty. As someone who has only visited briefly, I supposed that the the Roman baths and such were always exposed and celebrated, and were not concealed for generations. This is the story of the development of the city, even in its dark moments, and as such is really enjoyable and illuminating. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this unusual and entertaining book.
The first story concerns the establishment of various institutions and buildings in the city in the Regency period, as it became established as a place of healing and fashion, especially with the good offices of the famous “Beau Nash”. This is a very funny piece, with the author obviously enjoying playing with the ideas of origins. There is a tale narrated by the Fool or companion of an ancient king or two. King Alfred is interviewed in the style of a modern celebrity, including the cake incident. An unusual tale of how the Great Bath was excavated includes an early feminist, as well as a bit of a mystery. There is a picture of various people at a hotel in Bath in 1942, enduring the worst of the bombing. The factual piece expands on the nature of the heritage bombing both in Britain and Germany, as various historic buildings and cities were destroyed.
My favourite story is of Mr Bennet, the father of the famous Bennet sisters and star of Pride and Prejudice, who visited Bath on two occasions. During the first he encounters a young Nelson, James Boswell and his famous subject, the voluble Dr Johnson. He also meets the future Mrs Bennet, which leads to his later life of withdrawal to his library. His secret visit to the back streets of Bath many years later proves a disappointment as the city has not improved, but it is an entertaining tale as he encounters some fictional and real characters, none of whom are behaving well.
This is undoubtedly a very well written and constructed book, which manages to be very informative and entertaining. I recommend it to anyone who knows Bath, or would like to travel there in their imagination.
This sort of very funny writing with a touch of pathos is very welcome at the moment, as I am deliberately trying to find cheerful reads. I have decided not to embark on The Mirror and the Light” by Mantel as I know it will be beautifully written – and I will get too involved. It is sitting here ready though! Has anyone else shied away from a serious read at the moment?