This collection of the late A.A. Gill’s writing has one of his best works. I’ve read Lines in the Sand and thoroughly enjoyed it, and you will too in these honest, brutal, funny and sad stories, drawn from almost three decades of his work published primarily in The Sunday Times.
The book is divided into four sections. FOOD is his collection from when he was a restaurant critic but also includes his experience in consuming both mundane and exotic food during his travel, which he includes not only the taste but history and origin. This is the section that I most enjoy reading because like him, I have no qualms about trying local food wherever I go.
Like him, I love visiting local markets. He starts the chapter Markets with My weakness, my pleasure, is markets. Here, he describes the Mercato in Addis Ababa (which I missed going to in my last trip,) Tsukiji (who hasn’t been there?), the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul (ditto), and the dawn markets in Saigon to name a few.
His prose is lyrical, as when he describes the chicken liver served in a refugee camp cafe – The sauce is pungently hot, but still a negligee, not a shroud, for the meat.
On pomegranate – The flavour of pomegranate is ineffably sad. It’s a taste of mourning, of grief mixed wirg happy memory.
He is brutal when he says, Scotland remains the worst country in Europe to eat in if you’re paying- and one of the finest if you’re a guest. I think this is true of most European countries I’ve visited.
He’s never been asked about his last meals – apparently, this question is mostly reserved for cooks and chefs (as used to be in Singapore’s Sunday Times) – but he has this answer: if you’re going to have a perfect food retirement, it would be Vietnam for breakfast, Northern Italy for lunch and then alternatively southwest France and northwest France for dinner. I confess likewise, pho is the perfect breakfast to wake up to. Hot, soupy, comforting with all my favourite garnishes.
The best restaurant? Faviken, probably the most gastronomically chic, fashionable, and dribbingly mulled-over restaurant in the world. Located in Jamtland, a semi-independent state an hour’s flight from Stockholm. I won’t go as I probably can’t afford the prices.
The third section is on TELEVISION which is his review on TV shows and all things TV, including one on Sex and the City tour which he joined in NYC. Although he had nothing pleasant to write about it, I thought the tour was fun, as I was a Big fan of SATC. I skipped reading those stories which he writes of TV shows I am not familiar. This book is 388 pages thick and I knew I couldn’t finish reading in the six weeks allowed by the library.
The final and fourth section on LIFE is both sad and funny. Funny was his experience making Pornography in LA, his one weekend attending Glastonbury with the hippies in 2004 (is it still on?) and how he ended up with his Dog Putu. Sad is the chapter on Old Age and Dying which were also collected in the other book.
AA Gill had a keen sense of observation. He wrote from the sideline, present yet not involved directly so that readers feel they are there as a spectator as well, like in the chapters Nelson Mandela and Fashion .
I missed reading the second section on AWAY , in part because I think most of the stories have already been covered in the other book. But I might come back to reading it again in future.
The blurp at the back of the book states: this is the definitive collection of a voice that was silenced too early but can still make us look at the world in new and rewarding ways.
I can’t agree more.