One of the things I truly love about reading is the diversity that you can find when you open a book. In my time I've been trapped in a spaceship many miles from earth, smuggled a pony from Denmark to Sweden, died heroically, and persuaded William Caxton to publish fiction. I've also been a murderer, educated the Dalai Lama, and met and married Mr. Right.

So why do you love what you love reading? Some of it's probably wish fulfillment - that man you wished you'd married, that place you always wanted to go, that suppressed adventurer buried deep inside; and sometimes I think it has a lot to do with looking at everyday life from a different angle - some writing can bring back memories, or can be about just how you are now, and can make you look at your own life rather differently.

2014 has been a good year on the Bookhound laughter index - earlier this year I discovered David Sedaris, and now I've found Ben Hatch through his brilliantly funny Road to Rouen. Ben and his travel-writer wife, Dinah, set off on a tour of France to write a guidebook, armed with a lot of luggage and two small children. Inevitably there are going to be stresses aplenty along the route, but this portrayal of a happy family despite all the problems that life throws at you manages to be both very funny and deliciously heart-warming.

Hatch is really good at making the extraordinary out of the ordinary. And I think that it was this that really tugged at my heartstrings - I too have been caught up in the Twilight Zone of the Rouen one-way system (and ended up at my destination being greeted by a receptionist wearing a sombrero and welcoming me to "Mexican Potato Night"), and also remember the bizarre array of instructions awaiting anyone who dared to swim in a French swimming pool - I seem to remember when I was there, that there were lifeguards on flipper watch, evidently an early 1980s French enthusiasm.

Those were just my personal links with Road to Rouen, I'm sure that other people will relate via the children, or the relationship between Ben and Dinah. But the narrative holds you, because you feel that there's a very personal connection there. I guess, it's a tale of Everyman, but it's also the story of the Hatch family on their own journey - both physical and spiritual.

It's wonderfully, laugh-out loud, funny. The baguette smuggling into EuroDisney had me chortling away, while the smuggling of the hotel breakfast elicited a guilty smirk (my father was a great hard-boiled egg mule). But it's not all laughter, Hatch looks back on his childhood, the relationship with his parents particularly his talented but somewhat distant father; and then there's his own marriage - fundamentally a happy one, but not immune from doubts and conflict.

It's a tale of ordinary people told with a great deal of humour; and sometimes that ordinariness can grab your heart and mind every bit as firmly as the most exotic tale of flying on a magic carpet. I loved it, a great book for a pick-me-up.

Ben's great fun on Twitter too. Follow on @BenHatch.


Popular Posts