Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that my bio says “Modelling myself on Bill Bryson…minus the beard”. Having just read Road to Rouen, I’m tempted to change this to “Modelling myself on Ben Hatch…minus the sticky-up hair”.
A follow-up to the very amusing, Are We Nearly There Yet?, this travelogue sees Ben, his wife Dinah and their two young children squeezed between a multitude of ‘squishy bags’ (Ben’s latest packing method) in a cheese-filled Passat which requires a golf putter to prop the boot open and a tea flask to keep the glove box shut.
They have been commissioned to write a guidebook about France but the 10,000 mile journey is hardly a journey of elegant dining and sumptuous accommodation. Spreading cheese onto stale baguettes using an AA membership card, visiting far too many child-unfriendly châteaux and losing the will to live on a considerable number of ‘petits trains’, the Hatch family provide the rest of us with many laughs and a smidgen of unavoidable schadenfreude. Mind you, I don’t know why I was laughing so much as the stressful map-reading I had to do around Rouen will be etched in my memory for many a year.
Ben Hatch has a huge talent. His dialogue is witty, his observations are sharp and his sense of the absurd is acute. He effortlessly takes his readers with him on this journey: we all budge up on the back seat, keen to be part of the adventure. What takes the book up another notch, however, is the parallel story of Ben and Dinah’s relationship. In Are we Nearly There Yet? Ben’s relationship with his father is explored as he comes to terms with his father’s failing health. In Road to Rouen we discover how Ben and Dinah met, their early years together and, as they travel round France trying to beat the predicted arrival times of the SatNav, we accompany them on their quest to work out where their lives should go next.
This book is a great holiday read. Mad donkeys, jobsworth pool attendants, vegetable theme parks: it has it all. Put your feet up after the children are asleep, open a bottle of vin rouge and a packet of nail-splitting pistachio nuts and let Ben Hatch take you across the Channel for a trip to remember.
I bought this book from Amazon for £8.15. It is published by Headline.