You might be one of those people who secretly believe the clichés about the English. You know -- they're all witty and understated, their politicians are dottering buffoons, the men are sexually ambiguous and everybody drinks tea.
If so, you'll like Sarah Lyall's new book. She dives head-first into the stereotypes ... and finds them to be pretty much true. Because Lyall is rather witty and understated herself, as well as a dogged, meticulous reporter, the result is a book that is both funny and illuminating.
Ten years ago, she married an Englishman and moved to London. She figured the change wouldn't be all that drastic, and maybe for less-observant immigrants, it wouldn't have been. But for someone as sharp and curious as Lyall, it was eye-opening.
Lyall doesn't just document her observations, although that alone would have made a fun book. She digs out proof, examples and cause. Sexual ambiguity? She finds its roots in those English boarding schools "whose halls were suffused with sexual undercurrents."
And that understated quality? She turns to English personal ads, where applicants make themselves seem as bad as possible so as not to appear to be bragging. "Advertisers have described themselves as shallow, flatulent, obsessive, incontinent, hypertensive, hostile, older than 100, paranoid, pasty, plaid-festooned, sinister looking, advantage taking, and amphetamine fueled." (I agree: None of that sounds like bragging.)
Lyall's writing is strong and specific. The English accent, she says, is "the spoken equivalent of calligraphy." Nice.