Book Review: The Excursionist by J.D Sumner*
I have made this review as spoiler free as possible, but there are some minor details mentioned.
Jack Kaganagh, newly single due to the death of his wife, Kay, is desperate to visit 100 countries and join the Traveller’s Century Club, before he turns 45. The problem is Jack is enthusiastic about travel but entirely unsuited to it.
He bumbles along on his visit to three of the Coronation islands- countries number 98, 99 and 100- trying to have meaningful experiences and get to know himself again. However, he soon realises that the more he gets to know of the world, the less of it he understands.
The Excursionist describes itself as a dark, satirical anti- Eat, Pray, Love – a novel about travel and the pressure to visit as many places as possible and have meaningful experiences when you’re there. It’s for anyone who has travelled, or who wants to travel, and serves as a reminder that, no matter where in the world you go, you always have to take yourself with you (Goodreads).
I don’t like comparing books to each other as I prefer to treat them as books in their own right. However, as the book itself is marketed as ‘an anti- Eat, Pray, Love’ I feel like it’s acceptable to draw comparisons between the two.
I couldn’t get into Eat, Pray, Love for some reason- I think because the idea of travelling was too romanticised. The Excursionist was more relatable as Sumner manages to capture the stresses and mundane happenings that are part of travelling for pretty much everyone, whereas Elizabeth Gilbert portrays a very personal journey that isn’t easy to relate to for most.
Whilst I didn’t love this book, I found it entertaining. Sure, Jack was quite an arrogant, self-centred character, but some of the things he did and said made me laugh (I’m sure that says more about me than it does about the book).
Jack’s arrogance is, in my opinion, what makes the book so humorous. He shares many of the traits he seems to despise in the people he meets along the way- and it seems as though he is oblivious to this fact. The humour in this book is also dry and deadpan, which is a style I really like.
The Excursionist manages to capture the stresses and downsides of travelling well. You’ll certainly be nodding along in agreement when Jack has some slightly comedic mishaps along the way because anyone who’s ever been abroad will have experienced something similar. My favourite of these moments comes near the start of the book. Jack cannot relax whilst on his way to the airport until he has remembered what he has forgotten to pack.
The descriptions of the islands were something else that I really enjoyed. They weren’t overbearing and clichéd, but they weren’t too vague that I couldn’t imagine myself there. The way he describes being on the tiny island planes made me feel as though I was soaring through the sky with him, and the descriptions of his accommodations made me feel like I was living there too.
I did enjoy this book, and I’m glad I’ve read it. However, I was never gripped. If someone had told me when I was half way through that I wasn’t allowed to read any more ever, I wouldn’t have been upset by that. It’s not that I was bored, it’s just I wasn’t enthralled enough to want to keep reading.
Although the self-depreciating humour and the grumpiness about travelling is what made The Excursionist such a funny read, it became too much in parts. In some places- especially part two when Jack is on country number 99- the disdain for travel and everything that comes with it, was so strong that I couldn’t help but wonder why he was doing it. The book does show the bad side of travelling but then goes on to show that there are moments that make it all worthwhile, however, I feel like it needed to balance out a bit more sometimes by showing more of the good and less of the bad.
Another thing that I didn’t like was the frequent references to Frottager’s book as it made this seem more like an academic textbook than a novel to be used as a form of escapism. This also makes the book quite confusing; is it fiction? Is it not? Is it a memoir disguised as fiction? To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure now!
Overall I wouldn’t recommend rushing out and buying this book, but I would definitely recommend picking it up if you happen to see it sold cheaply somewhere- especially if that place happens to be an airport as it’d make a good holiday read. I’d recommend it for anyone who doesn’t like the pressure to travel for the sake of travelling rather than simply for pleasure.
I’d also recommend it for people who just don’t get Eat, Pray, Love (I can’t be the only one, surely?!).
*I was kindly sent a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.
Has anyone read this book yet? What did you think? Is it on any of your TBRs? Let me know in the comments!
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