Christine Strelan- Between the Covers

Lost Worlds

Michael Bywater

Granta 2005

Bachelors, chillblains, the cane, proper doctors, Latin, LPs, patchouli, melancholy, snuff and God: Michael Bywater wants to know where they have gone. Well, hell find the patchouli in Nimbin, and probably God as well, but out in the non-Aquarian world, future shock is here to stay. Words, customs and objects disappear faster than tropical rainforests.

Bywater doesnt moan about all this loss; its an inherent part of human existence: ...gentle reader, from the moment you were born, a universal process of attrition has been waged against you. If Jesus wants you for a sunbeam, that far older deity, Nature, wants you for a dunghill. Unashamedly subjective, hes not afraid to be a cranky old curmudgeon (hmm, theres a word you dont hear anymore...). Whenever his memories stray close to nostalgia, he turns on the cynicism. The world is indeed going to hell in a bucket, and we are all going to die.

Some of Bywaters topics are peculiarly British, but most of us have seen enough BBC to know what hes on about. The extensive footnotes are also worth reading, and often more irreverent than the main text. His bent sense of humour may not appeal to everyone, but I found the book extremely funny. The meditation on boy scouts made me laugh till I wept. Hearing another eruption of mad cackling, my kids rolled their eyes and muttered, Oh no, shes reading that book again.... Death, degeneration, human foolishness... what could be funnier? All I want now is the intriguing list of titles in his bibliography. Some samples: A Cultural History of the Penis. The Victorian Celebration of Death. The Technology of Orgasm. Modern Boys Book of Hobbies.

Ultimately, Bywater offers a new way of seeing the constant change that affects every area of our lives. Good humour and awareness of our own absurdity makes all loss more manageable. In the end, Loss sheds its light on what remains, and in that light all that we have and all that we have had glows more brightly still.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.


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