03 May 2013

Book Review

Mary Roach
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal


If there is one thing Mary Roach does well it is write. Her style is light, airy and humorous while being informative. It needs to be because she has made her stock in trade writing about taboo subjects like sex (Bonk), death (Stiff) and now our guts. For instance in writing about the biblical story of Jonah and the whale she says:
While a seaman might survive the suction and swallow, his arrival in a sperm whale's stomach would seem to present a new set of problems. (I challenge you to find a more innocuous sentence containing the words sperm, suction, swallow and any homophone of seaman.)
She takes us on a journey through the gut — from top to bottom. Well, except that she doesn't; it's a journey through the top half, as far as the stomach. There's a black hole of the small intestine should be. And a fast water chute through the colon. So despite the good writing I felt short changed by Gulp. I wanted more, and I wanted a bit more in depth science.

Sure, Roach talked to all the right scientists and medics. But this wasn't as in depth as either Stiff or Bonk — at least it didn't feel that way. And as I say the really interesting bits (well, to me, at least) beyond the stomach were too quickly glossed over.

So I was left feeling as though I'd had a decent starter, followed by some sorbet and coffee, but without a main course. Which is a shame because Roach writes too well for this.

Overall rating: ★★☆☆☆

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