I don't often do book reviews. Ok. Readers of this blog if there are any of you left, the rate I'm going at the moment, I don't even blog very often anymore...
The reason I don't do book reviews, is mainly a time thing, but Are We Nearly There Yet? by Ben Hatch was so much fun, I felt impelled to break my usual rule and write about it.
As with so many things these days, I first heard about this book via Twitter. It was garnering good reviews (not always a reason for me to go out and buy a book), but more importantly, the premise was one I found irresistible. The book's subtitle is: A Family's 8000 mile around Britain., and is the completely bonkers story of how Ben and his wife Dinah undertook to write a family friendly travel guide, travelling for five months with their two children UNDER the age of four. I told you it was bonkers.
Now as we are the family who has among other things: taken two elderly parents, a 4month old baby and a 2 year old to Germany; four children under 8 to Spain (twice), gone camping with three children 5 and under while I was 11 weeks pregnant, & driven round Europe more times then I care to mention, this was a book that couldn't fail to appeal. And lots of the places Ben and his family went, we have also visited: Ironbridge , Warwick Castle, Liverpool (we took the same Duck tour as them, but theirs sounded much funnier), and Monkey World among others, so there's a fascination in seeing the same place through someone else's eyes. There's also the shared moments of recognition, such as the moments when children won't sleep,cause mayhem, and the parents collapse in an exhausted heap at the end of the day.
I would have loved this book for that alone. For showing that it's the same for most of us. We muddle through with our kids, particularly when we're travelling, which is possibly the most stressful thing you can do with small children. But I also loved it for the unexpected emotional punch it delivers. Just before Ben and his family set off on this trip, he discovered his father was dying of cancer. His dad insisted on him going on the trip, but much of the journey is punctuated with anxious phone calls home, and the odd dash back. Having so recently attended a dying relative myself, there was much in Ben's story that made me gasp aloud in recognition. The description of his father's last day, could almost have been the one I wrote for mil, and I am not ashamed to say it made me weep. For all of us, there comes a time when we lose someone we love, for most of us, that first experience is with a parent. But at whatever stage of life they or you are at, the loss is tangible and real, and won't hurt any less because someone's had a good innings, or you know they're not suffering anymore. If you've lost your dad, or your mum, or another close family member, you've lost that person, full stop. No amount of rationalising can take the pain away.
And what I loved about the way Ben wrote this, was not only was he honest and open about the way he felt about his dad, and how he coped with his dad dying (at one point on the trip, he wasn't coping well at all, which is unsurprising in the circumstances), but he's taken it beyond the personal, to tell a story that affects us all. And then at the end of it he goes back to his family, and his journey, and their future. Just as his dad would surely have wanted him to.
This is a wonderful book: simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming, it made me laugh out loud (there is an outrageous scene involving a toothbrush, which only those of a strong disposition should read), and weep in equal measures. But above all it is tremendously life affirming. You don't have to have had a family or have suffered bereavement to enjoy it either, his wry observations about the places they visit are funny whatever your circumstances, and his description of Dinah's turtle phobia made me cry with laughter (I think Mrs Hatch deserves a MEDAL quite frankly). Ben Hatch has the knack of taking the mundane and the ordinary and elevating it to story material which will make you desperate to come back for more. I gather he's just about to go round Europe on another family trip. He's totally mad of course, but I can't wait to read the result.