Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Raban's Last Book

Jan 28, 2024

One Christmas present I very much appreciated was Jonathan Raban's last book, Father and Son.

I've admired Raban's writing for many years, ever since reading Coasting, his wonderful account of sailing around Great Britain in 1982, also a meditation on the damage that Margaret Thatcher was doing to his native country. When I read it I was in a sailboat myself, cruising through the Discovery Islands at the north end of the Salish Sea, which made the book all the more enjoyable.

Another favourite is Passage to Juneau, about a cruise he made up the coast of British Columbia from Seattle to Alaska. Raban perhaps didn't know as much about the coast as he thought he did, but no one wrote about sailing and water quite like he did.That book also contains an exquisite chapter about his sudden return to England to be at his father's bedside as the old man dies. 

Anyway, sad to report that Father and Son is not among my favourite Raban's. It is part medical memoir -- he suffered a serious stroke in 2011 and the book recounts the first weeks of his rehab -- and part account of his father's experiences fighting in World War Two. To my mind the first part reveals a grumpy, unlikeable side to his character -- not suprisingly, the man was facing the rest of his life with a serious disability! -- while his version of the war seems to be largely cribbed from secondary sources.

Instead I will remember Raban, who died last year, for Coasting, Passage to Juneau, and several other books from a distinguished career as travel writer, critic and novelist.