cover image The Angry Island: Hunting the English

The Angry Island: Hunting the English

A. A. Gill, . . Simon & Schuster, $24 (227pp) ISBN 978-1-4165-3173-9

He writes for the London Sunday Times and lives in Britain, but rapier-wit social critic Gill wants readers of this provocatively perceptive dissection of English cultural mores to know he was born a Scotsman, thank you very much, and is most definitely not an "enigmatically indecipherable" Englishman. In 16 defiantly abrasive essays, Gill bristles with outrageous originality about cliched topics like England's class system ("unfair, cruel, and above all smug"); gardening ("the great English cultural expression"); British accents ("a never-ending source of subtle snobbery"); and kindness to animals ("gives them an excuse to patronize, bully, and be psychologically spiteful to other people"). Elsewhere, he balances droll bombast with surprising outbursts of admiration for the British way. He's a fan of the nation's war memorials, praising them, without a hint of sarcasm, as sublime expressions of the "exhausted relief" that shrouded England after the First World War. And he admires the country's propensity for queues, concluding that the Second World War was won—or not lost—through the orderly evacuation by both navy destroyers and rowboats after the disastrous battle of Dunkirk. Gill's caustic ruminations often veer into over-the-top hyperbole, but these essays, brimming with incendiary certitude, also offer nuggets of truth. (June)