Lately, I’ve been quite generous with my reviews, but to be fair, the books definitely deserved it. Some of you may be aware that I’m rather enamored with Perth, the capital of Western Australia. I enjoy listening to local musos, reading local writers, and I own a few traveler’s guides to the city, as well. This particular book was released just before my last trip Down Under. At first, I waffled whilst thumbing through it at the bookstore, but then decided, primarily due to the blurb on the back, to go ahead and add it to the collection. After all, it promised a different view of the place. Except, that’s not what happened… the review below was first published on Goodreads, where I gave the book two stars.
From the back cover: “Perth: a guide for the curious is meant to be thumbed through in cafes, stuffed into satchels and walked around the city like a tireless companion.” Translate that into “read in the bookshop, steal but don’t waste your money, and if you need help drowning yourself in shallow water, feel free to use as weight in your backpack.” The title makes a promise that the content of this erratic, badly edited and boringly illustrated tome cannot keep. For one thing, not a thought was wasted on who the intended audience might be. Some of the essays are entirely pointless drivel that provide neither illumination nor illustration of the nature of this most isolated capital city. Few of them bother to scratch up any substance beyond flimsy personal anecdotes that cannot remotely be connected to Perth as it exists today, partly because the photo material is so tiny, one needs a magnifying lens to make out any detail, partly because the included “maps” are merely strip maps of the former wetland glory dotted with random landmarks, as if someone had invited a drunken darts player to create illustrations. So, if the “curious” addressed in the title are already familiar with Perth, it is doubtful they would bother purchasing this book, and if it is aimed at a broader audience, I recommend buying an additional road map.
Somewhere in the book, the authors claim that content goes beyond nostalgia, but the old-fashioned photographs dividing individual sections say otherwise. All these points, together with the ridiculous foreword by current Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi, who is clearly creating credentials for a future career in tourism marketing, should have been enough to warn me to keep the credit card in the wallet and run, not walk, to the nearest exit of the bookshop. Perhaps the final review copy of the book was a bit of a rush job, or else Terri-ann White should have spent more time with actual proof-reading, because when I said “badly edited” before, that is just what I mean.
Some of the essays are rambling pieces that provide no clear connection to Perth at all, and sadly, that does include the mumbo-jumbo chapter on Nyoongar place names. If you cannot get enough quality submissions for a whole book, look further or print a magazine instead. Page 143, in Peter Kennedy’s chaotic piece on local politics and name-dropping, features two whole lines, neatly enclosed in parentheses, that clearly constitute a text correction of some sort. Geoffrey London’s Urban Reflections not only boast a sadly obvious grammatical mistake (“…becoming a keen student of the city and it’s architecture”, p. 183) but also a complete disconnect from Perth then and now, as it is wholly unillustrated. Websites such as Lost Perth feature vast vaults of photographic material that could have been used to bring these remembrances to life for those readers who are not old or local enough to be familiar with the city at that time.
All in all, this collection reads like a hurried assembly of random writings without direction. The small handful of actually insightful and interesting articles cannot balance out the rest, and one must look very, very closely to “find the city’s soul” or discover anything about its personality. Save your money for the excellent Perth by David Whish-Wilson, instead and satisfy your curiosity by visiting the local tourist office and exploring on your own.
Postscript: today I actually officially finished the book. I stand by my original assessment. The only reason to elevate the rating at all would be that David Whish-Wilson’s essay was a fabulous example of what the book could have been, had standards for content been set and applied.