RogerBW's Blog

Red Thread, Charlotte Higgins 29 May 2021

2018 non-fiction, Charlotte Higgins explores the maze and labyrinth in fiction and their influence on the world.

Higgins is a journalist; she "blogs [for The Guardian] on the latest developments in the arts, classical music, theatre and books". She is not an historian. And this book, at least this Book of the Week abridgement, feels much like what you'd get if you told a journalist to write down everything they could think of on the subject of mazes, and paid them by the word.

The writing is pleasant, but it rambles. Things are mentioned in passing but never referenced. The neurological basis of an understanding of place is pulled in, and so is a long anecdote about an old woman on the farm near where Higgins grew up (?), and in the end it's much more about Higgins' experience of and reaction to mazes and labyrinths than it is about the things themselves or their influence on the world in general.

Which is fine, but she's still a journalist, and still not an historian. So while she's delved a little into the classics, and loves coming back to Borges, she doesn't have (or this condensation doesn't show) the richness of mind (or the research) that would let the labyrinth echo backward and forward in time, the connections with mystery cults, the spirit trap, the pilgrimage, the meditative angles… I'm much more interested in these than in "I didn't grow up in London so it was hard for me to learn to use the Underground".

Eh. It's all right, it's not offensive, but there's just very little to it. Not helped that it's read by Higgins herself, who has some very distracting consonant sounds (an S is somewhere between "sh" and "sss", while a terminal L is completely absent).

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  1. Posted by Gus at 03:51am on 30 May 2021

    'while a terminal L is completely absent' Kiw her now, ven. If it is the same Charlotte Higgins I have in mind, her burblings about The Archers are truffled with inaccuracies. What a good thing the maize maze is a thing of the past. Poor hack might have spliced herself.

  2. Posted by Chris Bell at 10:25am on 30 May 2021

    My eight-year-old had not grown up in London and was taken there for the day by her heartless godmother. She was shown the Tube map, and then challenged to be the guide for a journey from Paddington to Leytonstone. She confidently got them to their destination. (Her godmother was impressed but unsurprised.)

    What has having grown up in London got to do with being able to interpret a stylised map?

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 01:11pm on 30 May 2021

    This is apparently the same Charlotte Higgins who has taken over from Nancy Banks-Smith writing about The Archers. Detail and research don't appear to be her strong suits.

  4. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:09pm on 31 May 2021

    As someone who did not grow up in London, the Underground is easy. I think I first navigated it at the age of 16 when I was there with Kirklees Youth Orchestra. Anyone who thinks it is hard has clearly never been on it.

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