Alan Bradley and Bill Bryson

Alan Bradley and Bill Bryson

Alan Bradley, left; Bill Bryson, right.

It would have made a great story. If only the facts would cooperate.

Last night I finished listening to Bill Bryson’s book about Australia, In a Sunburned Country. I listened with joy to his elegantly turned phrases, self-deprecatory humor, and characterizations of the people and landscape. His dismay at the treatment of aborigines provoked me to care, too. At times Bryson’s tone veers to the suburbs of crass, and he inserts a few liberal rants, but overall I liked it very much.

As it happens, I also finished Alan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce mystery, Speaking from Among the Bones.  Because it’s how I’m wired, I read through the acknowledgments, and there two thirds down the page were these sentences: Family, too, have been there to wave flags and shout encouragement at every way station, and I’d like to especially acknowledge …Bill and Barbara Bryson

What? Bill Bryson in Alan Bradley’s family section? Crazy!  I skipped out of bed to explore this connection. Alas, Bill Bryson, the author, is married to a Cynthia. Bill’s father, William, is married to an Agnes Mary. I can’t detect anything other than coincidence in the names.

My favorite excerpt from Bryson’s book is his description of how he sleeps:

I am not, I regret to say, a discreet and fetching sleeper. Most people when they nod off look as if they could do with a blanket; I look as if I could do with medical attention. I sleep as if injected with a powerful experimental muscle relaxant. My legs fall open in a grotesque come-hither manner; my knuckles brush the floor. Whatever is inside—tongue, uvula, moist bubbles of intestinal air—decides to leak out. From time to time, like one of those nodding-duck toys, my head tips forward to empty a quart or so of viscous drool onto my lap, then falls back to begin loading again with a noise like a toilet cistern filling.

And I snore, hugely and helplessly, like a cartoon character with rubbery flapping lips and prolonged steam-valve-exhalations. For long periods I grow unnaturally still, in a a way that inclines onlookers to exchange glances and lean forward in concern, then dramatically I stiffen and, after a tantalizing pause, begin to bounce and jostle in a series of whole-body spasms of the sort that bring to mind an electric chair when the switch is thrown.. Then I shriek once or twice in a piercing and effeminate manner and wake up to find that all motion within five hundred feet has stopped and all children under the age of eight are clutching their mothers’ hems.

Flavia’s humor is dry, more inclined to make me smile in appreciation than to laugh out loud. And tucked in unexpected places the whiz kid chemist wonders about life.

How odd, I thought: Here were these four great grievers, Father, Dogger, the vicar, and Cynthia Richardson, each locked in his or her own past, unwilling to share a morsel of their anguish, not even with one another.

Was sorrow, in the end, a private thing? A closed container? Something that, like a bucket of water, could be borne only on a single pair of shoulders?


Edit: I received a gracious and funny email from Mr. Bradley confirming that his Bill Bryson is not the American author Bill Bryson.


9 thoughts on “Alan Bradley and Bill Bryson

  1. Thanks for the quotations, in particular. I’ve never asked anyone how I look (or sound) when I sleep. I’d be afraid to find out. And Flavia’s observation is perceptive: we do tend to grieve alone, no matter how many people are around.

  2. Hi Carol, I just saw this post tucked away in my feedly reader, overlooked. I love Bill Bryson – his stories about traveling in Europe ages ago still tickle me. Yes, he does wander into the crass areas at times, but often I chuckle in spite of myself. Come to think of it, I might just re-read bits of it, it’s been awhile.

    I don’t know Flavia de Luce or the other author. Seems like I need to take a look. I agree with the comment above; we do seem to grieve alone, don’t we?

    thanks for the post.

  3. I just read those acknowledgements as well, and wondered about Bill Bryson – and googling it, discovered your post! Thank you for satisfying my curiousity.

  4. I too am a fan of both Bill Bryson and Alan Bradley, and also read the family acknowledgments and spotted this. Which led me to a google the connection between them, and found your post. A similar path of disappointment! But happy to discover someone who shares my quirky reading tastes. I came across Flavia De Alice and she has become the antidote to my insomnia in the form of the brilliantly narrated audio books. And if I happen to fall asleep in mid chapter, I just go back the next night and pick up from there. It has become part of my nightly ritual. Don’t know what I’ll do when I run out of these books!

    • We are kindred spirits! I also have used audio books as an insomnia antidote. And have also listened multiple times to the same chapter!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. It was delightful to hear from you. (I was in Yosemite with no wifi when you commented.)

      • As you can tell I’m a bit of a slow correspondent/ madly busy person. Which Flavia De Luce book are you on? I just started The Grave’s a Fine and Quiet Place. The writing is amazing and just gets better and better, although the side trip to Canada was kind of odd. I still use these as my insomnia antidote but have also taken to listening while driving, which means I’m getting through them quicker, and that is not ideal as I’d love to make them last!

      • I just read Golden Tresses of the Dead. I realized I’ve missed a few. I can see myself going back to the first one and listening to the entire series.

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