The Angry Island: Hunting the English

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9781416531753: The Angry Island: Hunting the English

Think of England, and anger hardly springs to mind as its primary national characteristic. Yet in The Angry Island, A. A. Gill argues that, in fact, it is plain old fury that is the wellspring for England's accomplishments.

The default setting of England is anger. The English are naturally, congenitally, collectively and singularly livid much of the time. They're incensed, incandescent, splenetic, prickly, touchy, and fractious. They can be mildly annoyed, really annoyed and, most scarily, not remotely annoyed. They sit apart on their half of a damply disappointing little island, nursing and picking at their irritations. The English itch inside their own skins. They feel foreign in their own country and run naked through their own heads.

Perhaps aware that they're living on top of a keg of fulminating fury, the English have, throughout their history, come up with hundreds of ingenious and bizarre ways to diffuse anger or transform it into something benign. Good manners and queues, cul-de-sacs and garden sheds, and almost every game ever invented from tennis to bridge. They've built things, discovered stuff, made puddings, written hymns and novels, and for people who don't like to talk much, they have come up with the most minutely nuanced and replete language ever spoken -- just so there'll be no misunderstandings.

The Angry Island by turns attacks and praises the English, bringing up numerous points of debate for Anglophiles and anyone who wonders about the origins of national identity. This book hunts down the causes and the results of being the Angry Island.

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About the Author:

A.A. Gill was born in Edinburgh, but has lived in London for most of his life. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Foreword

This is a collection of prejudice. Opinions based on a lifetime's experience. Identifying what it is that makes a nation a people and not just a random collective of individuals who happen to share the same geography is a risky business, but we all know that nations are recognizable and different from each other. It's almost too obvious to dispute that Canadians are not like Brazilians and the Irish are not synonymous with the Jews. A national character, when self-defined, is the stuffing of patriotism and pride. It is also the source of umbrage when the observation is made by foreigners.

The English are the most enigmatically indecipherable people when seen from outside. Even from the inside, what is definable isn't always understandable. Their homespun enigma is itself part of the carefully engineered English mythology. When I was first considering writing this book, an American said: Oh God, please, write an owner's manual for the English. We look at them and they're so familiar, but so alien and weird. I have no idea how you make or repair an Englishman.

This isn't quite an owner's manual, but it is a series of observations drawn from having lived amongst the English but never having felt one of them. This is not a book of facts. Facts are inert things. Facts are what pedantic, dull people have instead of opinions. Opinions are always interesting. What people deduce and make out of their own lives is what attracts and informs. Never mistake a fact for the truth. The English, of course, are inordinately fond of facts -- they hoard them and throw them through the windows of home truths. But facts are only the scaffolding, the trellis up which bright opinions are grown. So don't look for proofs here, there's precious little forensic evidence. This is just what I know to be true.

Copyright © 2005 by A. A. Gill

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