Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Book Review: The Dark Tourist by Dom Joly

So far on this blog reviews been confined to reviews of tours I have actually taken. There's plenty of writing about tours too, however, and I thought it might be worthwhile to introduce some book reviews here and there to liven things up. So first up is The Dark Tourist by Dom Joly which I have just finished reading. It is a 2010 publication that would probably be best described as off-beat travel writing with author Joly relating trips of his to Iran, North Korea, USA, Lebanon, Cambodia and Ukraine. Some of these trips were to 'dark tourism' destinations such as the Killing Fields of Cambodia, Dealey Plaza in Dallas the site of JFK's assassination or Chernobyl the location of the world's worst nuclear reactor disaster. As well as these he also visits a number of untypical tourist destinations like the ski slopes of Iran and the propagandistic museums of North Korea. As such the book does not hold together through a clearly defined idea of dark tourism but rather through the quality of his observation and style of writing. There are some great episodes and unlikely encounters but there is also quite a lot of more conventional travel writing that is simply suggesting to the reader that there is much to be seen in untypical tourist destinations. 

I was vaguely aware of Joly through his TV appearances and I found his writing to be considerably more reflective than the comedy output I associate with him. It occupies a hip intelligent space as interested in foreign affairs as in the unwitting comedy of his North Korean guides and odd-ball tour group. Where the book took a very different turn was in the final chapter on Lebanon, the birthplace and childhood home of Joly. In this chapter his writing takes a more overtly personal turn and appears to be an attempt to understand his past and in doing so give a broader sense of why dark tourism might hold the appeal it does to him. I felt that this chapter belonged to a different book as it did not so much extend and deepen the rest of the book as take it in a new direction. It is as if he does not try so hard to be entertaining here and instead has a quite different relationship to the country and his experiences. As such it felt somewhat unfinished and I shouldn't be surprised if he develops some of the themes touched upon there further, at a later date. Overall the book is a mostly entertaining read that neither insults nor greatly stretches the intelligence and which has significant appeal to those who already have a bit of the dark tourist inside of them.

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