The Reluctant Traveller: France and the French - Patrick Byron
A bit too highbrow for a comedy book

Patrick Byron is educated, and that's the one drawback in this otherwise excellent little book. He assumes the reader is as schooled and knowledgeable as himself and Stanley. I was about �� of the way through before I realised that I was researching far too many French philosophers than I would normally expect to.

Certain sentences made absolutely no sense whatsoever to me; "The real difference between the two nations (France and England) is not 1789 but 1848." Now in the history room at Oxbridge I'm sure this would raise understanding smiles at the astute and perceptive wit, but as for me, I haven't the faintest idea what happened on either of those dates. So wait there I'm going to look it up.

Okay, I've found it. 1789 was the French Revolution, and 1848 was the European Revolutions, affecting apparently 50 countries, although it too started in France. I still don't get the joke.

Another sentence that had me wondering what on earth was going on; "The unspoken insult behind the premise, I suppose, was that Stanley had been Yorick and that I was Smellfungus."

Made no sense to me at the time, but I figured that he must have at least mentioned these two before, so I first of all looked up Smellfungus. Earlier in the book we learn that apparently "Sterne called Smollet `The Learned Smellfungus.'"

No wiser I've now got to look up Sterne and Smollet. They're travel writers from the 18th century, and we were informed about them earlier in the book, but I'd forgotten.

But who's Yorick? I don't know. He's only mentioned once in the book, so I'm going to have to Google him. Okay, I've got him, he was a dead court jester in Shakespeare's Hamlet; "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well!" Okay, in the back of my mind somewhere I think I've heard that before, but as I've never studied Shakespeare nor been to any of his plays I've a) never really heard of him and b) don't get this joke either. Why should Stanley be Yorick and Byron be Smellfungus?

I know it's supposed to be a joke because in Byron's book description he states "Stanley and Patrick find themselves bouncing from one hilarious escapade to the next," and then goes on to describe the book as "an utterly hilarious story about two Englishmen abroad," so we know there's supposed to be a lot of gags in the book.

Actually, a short aside here for a moment. The author is Patrick Byron, but in the book description he refers to himself three times as Patrick Bryon. He can't even remember his own pen name!!!

Despite all this it's actually quite a readable little book. It's frustrating when the author constantly refers to French philosophers and travel writers without an introduction as though the reader is expected to be familiar with them, but what's really frustrating is the number of times he mentions m��nage �� trois without giving us all the juicy details.

We learn that Voltaire - I know who he is, author of Candide - had a m��nage �� trois with Mme du Ch��telet. Well that's not much of a m��nage �� trois is it? Just the two of them! Was Voltaire's wife involved or du Ch��telet husband? Come on Byron or Bryon or whatever your name is, give us the gossip!

Rousseau - I don't know who he is - had "an infamous m��nage �� trois with Mme de Warens and a spanking-obsessed affair with his housekeeper." That's more like it. I assume the m��nage �� trois was between the three of them and that Rousseau, de Warens and his housekeeper use to enjoy rather quick and vigorous slaps to each other's bottoms in the privacy of his bedroom. `Fifty Shades of Rousseau' could be the next best-seller for Byron.

Jean-Paul Sartre had a m��nage �� trois with Simone de Beauvoir and a mistress he adopted as his daughter. But we're told little else, and in my opinion there's material here to keep the reader on the edge of his seat. The heroes of `Jules et Jim' are apparently another famous French m��nage �� trois, but I've no idea who they were and Byron doesn't enlighten us.

It's a readable book with Stanley and Patrick Byron getting into some mildly amusing scrapes. You can't help liking the pair of them. It deserves more than the 3 Star I'm giving it, but in all honesty I can't afford it a 4 Star status.