Thursday, 21 October 2010

The terrible privacy of the Toyota Prius

I’m appearing at the Off the Shelf Festival in Sheffield this Saturday with Jonathan Coe. Come one, come all: I’m not sure of the details but I imagine it involves exchanging folding money with someone, although I don’t anticipate ticket touts and teeming hordes.

Coe’s novel, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, has some parallels with On Roads. It’s about a sales rep who drives off to Shetland in a Toyota Prius, hangs out at service stations, falls in love with his satnav voice, and loses his way in the motorway system in a similar manner to Donald Crowhurst in the Doldrums on the solo round-the-world yacht race in the late 1960s. There are some telling descriptions of the motorway as non-place:

There was absolutely nothing to see, nothing to look at, apart from the little punctuation marks that broke up the motorway itself – roadsigns, chevrons, gantries, bridges, all of which merged into one indecipherable, meaningless sequence after a while anyway. There was countryside on both sides but it was featureless: the occasional house, the occasional reservoir, the occasional glimpse of a distant town or village, but apart from that, nothing. It occurred to me that the areas bordering our motorways must make up a huge proportion of our countryside, and yet nobody ever visits them or walks through them, or has any experience of them other than the monotonous, regularly unfolding view you get through the car window. These areas are wastelands; unaccounted for.

6 comments:

  1. The motorway verge thing is often discussed by JG Ballard and his ilk. I read somewhere about the interesting parallel between man-made 'uglification' and wildlife havens, with specific reference to motorway verges and military testing sites, and the irony of creating a place where humans don't want to go, which leaves animals in peace to go about their business.

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