Book Review: Free Country

Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain

by George Mahood

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (18 Dec. 2014)

Paperback 352pp    Paperback £8.99     Kindle £1.99

ISBN-13: 978-1490356662

I’ve read a few books of his sort (which I think of as novelty travel, or even annoying novelty travel) and have mixed feelings about the genre.  Is it really necessary to do more than travel and write entertainingly? Do you need to take a fridge with you, or in this case, do you need to start off in your pants and beg your way the length of the country? Not that it really matters, because charity shops are full of these books and they rarely cost more than £1.50. At that price I can adapt to most things.

Part of the problem is that everything seems to fall into place so easily, finding footwear before doing any serious damage to their feet for instance, and the other is that a lot of the stuff they are given is the result of theft. They may be amazed at the generosity of staff in large chains, but actually, that’s theft. Same goes for the employees of smaller establishments who give them free drink or food while the boss is away – theft.

George Mahood thinks the penniless journey is a demonstration of the basic decency of human beings who are selflessly prepared to help two idiots on their way from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.

I think it’s about finding a gimmick to base a book on.

It’s beginning to sound like I don’t like the book, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a good book, with well-observed characters, warmth, moments of peril, light and shade and humour. I did follow them with bated breath, I did worry about them, and I was rooting for them, despite my moral misgivings.

It was a birthday present from Number One son and arrived in the post whilst I was in the grip of several different infections (the advancing years are not being kind), so I left it for a week before picking it up.

Once I started it I finished it in two sessions and was really sorry to reach the end.

Judged from a moral standpoint – theft, begging, fecklessness and having defective brakes – it’s hard to give it more than three stars, but from a reading point of view it’s a massive five.

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Free Country

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  2. tootlepedal

    I am very much of the ‘annoying’ novelty travel school. My pet beef is/are journalists who take on a trip for which they are utterly underprepared and make a book out of doing something very badly. I would prefer to read the book of someone who did the same thing well.

  3. Laurie Graves

    Gimmicky, I’m sure, is exactly the right word. However, it is fascinating how we humans like to set trials for ourselves. It’s not enough to simply walk across the country. We have to hop, or do it barefoot, or beg. We’re a funny bunch, aren’t we?

  4. beatingthebounds

    I read a book with such a similar premise that at first I thought that it must be that one you were reviewing. It was “Broke Through Britain: One Man’s Penniless Odyssey” by Peter Mortimer. He walked from Plymouth to Edinburgh scrounging food and lodging as he went. Like you, I enjoyed the book, despite misgivings about the ethics of what he did. I also read ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’, a novel which I seem to remember getting a lot of favourable publicity and being a radio 4 book of the week. I finished it, but wished I hadn’t bothered. And that’s as nice as I can be about that.

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