TagUp the Creek Without a Mullet

The month in reading: January 2010

January 2010 didn’t bring any absolute knockout books my way, but there were some fine reads nevertheless. My favourite book of the month was Robert Jackson Bennett‘s Depression-era fantasy Mr Shivers, which has substantially more subtextual depth than many a quest fantasy I’ve seen over the years.

Silver- and bronze-medal positions for the month go to two very different books. Simon Lelic‘s Rupture is a fine debut novel, centred on a school shooting perpetrated by an apparently placid teacher; and Up the Creek Without a Mullet (reviewed in February, but read in January) is an entertaining account of Simon Varwell‘s travels in search of places with ‘mullet’ in their name.

Bubbling under, but well worth checking out, are Nadifa Mohamed‘s wartime East African odyssey, Black Mamba Boy; and Galileo’s Dream, a historical biography spliced with science fiction (or perhaps vice versa) by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Not a bad start to the year by any means; but, still, I’m hoping for even greater riches in the months ahead.

Simon Varwell, Up the Creek Without a Mullet (2010)

It was while travelling around eastern Europe with a friend that Simon Varwell developed a certain fascination with that [insert adjective of your choice here] hairstyle, the mullet. Back home in Inverness a year or so later, in 2002, Varwell discovered that there was a village in Albania named Mullet — and was taken with the notion of trying to visit everywhere in the world with the world mullet in its name. Up the Creek Without a Mullet chronicles the author’s travels up to 2005 (in Albania, Ireland, and mostly Australia), searching for mullets – places and haircuts alike.

There’s a danger, I think, that this sort of travel writing can come to seem gimmicky, if the quirky reason behind the journey is given more weight than the journey itself. I’m pleased to say that doesn’t happen here, to the extent that I often felt as though the mullet-hunt was somewhat in the background; not forgotten about (on the contrary, it’s often on Varwell’s mind, to the point that he even wonders at times whether his ‘mission’ is all worth it), but it’s the cement that holds Varwell’s travels together — and, like cement, it’s not necessarily what you see first. Indeed, with Varwell’s often finding the ‘mullet’ places to be disappointingly ordinary, it’s his travels between that provide the greatest amount of interest.

Varwell himself proves a likeable companion for the journey through his book: he has a dry wit (at one point, he describes Sydney’s rail system as ‘reliable, good value, and regular, all novelties for a Scottish traveller’ [114]), writes engagingly about the places he visits, and makes Up the Creek Without a Mullet a very personal account. The idea behind Varwell’s journeys may be daft, but he’s well aware of that; and his genuine enthusiasm shines through, making this book a very satisfying read.

However, in case you were wondering: I’m keeping my hair short.

Further links
Simon Varwell’s website
Sandstone Press
Sydney Morning Herald article on Varwell’s travels (2005)

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