Friday 27 April 2012

TRAVEL MONTH REVIEW - 'An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington', Karl Pilkington (Canongate Books, 2010)

Accompanying the successful TV show of the same title, in which Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send their grumpy comedy sidekick and self-confessed miserable git, Karl Pilkington to visit the seven wonders of the world entirely for their own amusement (and ours). This is a record of his experiences and observations en route to 'enlightment'.

The whole crux of this book (and the telly programme, of course) is that this is a man who hates leaving his home comforts - lets put him in what he would consider the most unpleasant and uncomfortable situations and have a good chuckle. Which is ok, because Pilkington appears to be in on the joke most of the time. And this is a funny read. Funny, not laugh-out-loud hysterical, though. I was hoping for a few more giggles, if I'm honest.

However, there are some classic lines. My particular favourite -

He offered me a glass of nut juice. Of all the things to get juice out of, I can't think of anything less juicy. I was still getting my head round the fact that carrot juice existed, now nut juice.

An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl PilkingtonAnybody reading this book who is unfamiliar with the TV series might not get too much out of it. Most of the comedy is mined from the delivery and it was only because I could picture him and hear him saying these things that I found them amusig. I checked out a couple of reviews on Good Reads from people clearly clueless about Karl Pilkington and the jist of their assessments is (and I'm generalising slightly/a lot here) 'what a miserable git' (they're correct, but that is the point) 'why is a trip like this being wasted on him?' (the comedic potential for larfs). And so on and so forth.

This is no ground-breaking travalogue. The structure is very samey. Karl goes to wonder. Karl notes down some observations. Karl has a bit of a moan (mainly about toilet-related matters), transcript of phone conversation between him and Ricky or Stephen (slightly scripted TV feel to them), Karl makes a few final observations. End of chapter.

The phone transcripts seem a little pointless. I get how they worked on screen, but, on paper they are over-long and a bit unfunny and appear to be levered in to increase the Gervais/Merchant content.

In terms of the travel aspects of it all, I enjoyed the Brazil and Petra chapters, particularly his exchanges with Brazilian guide Cesco (of nut juice-gate). On the whole, I would have like more observations on the whole travel side of it from Karl and a little less of the TV related stuff.

So, as a a companion piece to the TV series, this works a treat. As a stand alone travelogue, not so much. So, yeah, if you're a fan, read away, if you're not, this probably isn't going to persuade you otherwise.


I was particularly drawn to the Mexican obsession with death. There as something about embracing the dark side is a celebratory manner that drew me to this country. I've always wanted to explore south and central America and this didn't discourage me. However, this didn't offer anything particularly enlightening in terms of travel observations, just funny commentary about the usual (bowel movements, foreign eating habits and the like). But, I'm ok with that.


  1. Great review, Anna. I don't think this book is for me. I'm not the biggest of Karl Pilkington fans, to be honest. Although, I have to admit, I haven't seen much of his TV series...
    I'm glad you enjoyed this one though :-D

    I'm totally loving this month. I want to go a-travelling.

  2. He's a bit of a Marmite, isn't he? I think I preferred the TV series to the book, on the whole