Reviewed by Timothy Niedermann
The sequel to the bestselling Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries continues author Bill Arnott’s saga of his journeys to various parts of the world. A difference, as Arnott lets the reader know early on, is that the journeys he includes here took place before, after, and even during the trips related in the first Gone Viking and are grouped not by chronology but by geographical area: “The Americas,” “UK and Europe,” “Asia,” and “Oceania.” Within each section, he skips around a lot in time, which is sometimes confusing. In Australia, for instance, he celebrates Christmas on the west coast, then flies east to Sydney where he celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, then a few pages later is surprised that it’s New Year’s Eve. The explanation is revealed a bit later: he and his wife (he mostly travels with his wife) have made a number of trips to those shores, usually at holiday time. Perhaps he could have made this clearer, as in several places what appears to be a single trip is actually a combination of several taken a different times. But that’s not his point. Quoting Robert Louis Stevenson, another noted writer-traveler, he emphasizes that what he is trying to bring out is how to savour a journey rather than merely focus on its destination.
So, while he does make comments about the cities and towns he visits, most often he describes his multi-day hikes in interesting places, taking in the scenery and wildlife, and side activities, such as swimming and fishing. Arnott is quite well-read (his J.R.R. Tolkien references were particularly apt in New Zealand, where the Lord of the Rings films were shot) and has a lively (though sometimes more than a bit corny) sense of humour, which often include references to old movies and television shows, though this reviewer could have done without the rather lame Craig T. Nelson (“Coach”) jokes. And, being a poet, Arnott intersperses some of his stories with poetry reflecting his emotions about one aspect or another of where he finds himself.
At times, though, his daily excursions distill down to simple, occasionally dull, lists of the sights—museums, exhibits, mountains, beaches, and the like. To alleviate this, he creates little portraits of the people he meets. This is usually interesting and often funny, especially where Arnott amuses himself (and the reader) by parodying non-Canadian English speech, particularly the nearly impenetrable accent of Australians, although the British, New Zealanders and Americans are not spared.
In the same vein, Arnott also spends a good deal of time discussing the food and drink they enjoy (he is very fond of beer, and in each place they visit, he deliberately seeks out local brews to sample). And while there is a lot of variety, especially in the types of fish he consumes, his diet does tend to include a lot of fish and chips.
Arnott and his wife travel to four continents, but in the end, it is New Zealand that seems to have captivated them the most, and the largest section of the book is devoted to their multiple treks from end to end of this island nation. This is quite rewarding for the reader, as New Zealand has a fascinating history and distinctive culture—though it’s more accurate to say cultures, for New Zealand is surprisingly diverse. And perhaps it is no accident that he discovers “the best fish and chips in existence” near Christchurch on the South Island.
One thing that might have improved the book is maps. It is impossible to really appreciate a lot of what he describes without pulling out an atlas and tracing his route. His boat trip to the Isles of Scilly, his wanderings around Sydney, Australia, and his crisscrossing of New Zealand all cry out for a visual guide to help the reader appreciate things better.
There are a couple of minor slip-ups that detract from the overall quality of the book. For instance, the author incorrectly uses the word “disinterest” twice to mean 'uninterested' instead of 'impartial.' Referring to Lord Howe Island, he writes: “The closest piece of land was 1,000 kilometres east – Norfolk Island . . .” But, while Norfolk Island is indeed that far east of Lord Howe Island, Australia to the west is 400 kilometres closer. But given the expansive nature of the book, these are easily forgivable.
This second installment of the Gone Viking saga is a rich taste of corners of the world that most of us will never see, laid out for us to savour deeply.
Gone Viking II is published by Rocky Mountain Books.