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Mysterious World: Ireland

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by Ian Middleton & Douglas Elwell

ISBN 0 9760827 3 X
Mysterious World Press, 2006
776pp, paperback
Retail price $34.95


Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

This is a beautiful book. In terms of sheer physical attractiveness, I don’t think I’ve ever been given anything more appealing to review. Although books, in the long run, have to be judged on content, they are certainly often bought on the strength of their appearance, and this gives Mysterious World: Ireland a head start, especially when compared with most of the stuff turned out by small publishers in the UK.

First impressions aren't everything, but the interior of the book is as well-produced as the cover -- more so, in fact. Each page is "illuminated" -- I can't think of a better word -- in keeping with the best traditions of Irish literary history.

The concept behind the "Mysterious World" series, of which this volume is the first, is to reproduce in print (and presumably expand on) the content of the website -- an "online guide to exotic travel destinations around the world". Ireland lends itself well to this treatment, because of the plethora of ancient myths and legends surrounding the island. Nevertheless, it will be a little disconcerting for those expecting a practical travel guide to find that the first section deals entirely with these legends, illustrated with charming, old-fashioned colour drawings of mythical figures.

If you like this, you'll probably like:

Hot Footing Around the Emerald Isle

But don't we have enough "normal" travel guides to Ireland already? I think so, and I think there will be a market for something a little different. For a start, despite its sheer size, which may be off-putting for younger children, it is in fact the kind of introduction you could read to your kids in order to get them interested. I wish I'd had it available when I took my two to Ireland a few years ago. (The only time they perked up a bit was when they found a branch of Top Shop in Limerick.) It is a very different style of travel guide, because the first "part" of the book, which lasts for 217 pages, is entirely taken up with an overview of Irish mythology.

The rest of the book is more your usual kind of travel guide, though it has its own distinctive style. Part 2 deals with Ireland’s history and culture, and takes us half way through the volume. Only in Part 3 do we get the data on places to see, eat and stay. This is the section contributed by irrepressible and energetic backpacker Ian Middleton, whose Hot-Footing it around the Emerald Isle I reviewed a couple of years back. Ian’s style has come on a bit, quality-wise, but he is still the same jokey, down-to-earth traveller we met in that other book. Here’s a sample from his description of Carlow Town’s nightlife:

"Traditional Irish music might be hard to find – well, it was for me the night I was there anyway. When I did see an advert, it turned out to be two blokes with electric guitars and a very bad PA system."

We see the everyday detail of the visitor’s Ireland through Ian’s eyes. And it’s not such a bad way to travel, ensuring that the reader is simultaneously entertained and informed.

One criticism I feel obliged to make is the lack of a decent index. A non-fiction book with over 700 pages really needs an index to enable the reader to go quickly to what s/he is looking for. Having said that, the contents pages in the front of the book are comprehensive and well laid out. Altogether, this is a book I would seriously have thought of buying if I had been looking for a guidebook to Ireland. Price-wise, it compares favourably with similar books, and it’s more fun to read.

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher