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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

What we did on our Holidays

Geoff Nicholson

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To purchase What we did on our Holidays

Title: What we did on our Holidays
Author: Geoff Nicholson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1990
Length: 175 pages
Availability: What we did on our Holidays - US
What we did on our Holidays - UK
What we did on our Holidays - Canada
Comment j'ai raté mes vacances - France
Nervensägen oder Urlaub mit der ganzen Familie - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

A- : a black comedy, very funny and well-paced

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 4/1/1990 Judy Cooke
The Guardian B- 29/3/1996 Nicholas Lezard
New Statesman & Society B 12/1/1990 Jo-Ann Goodwin
TLS . 19/1/1990 Christopher Hawtree

  From the Reviews:
  • "If you are tolerant and readily amused, this will strike you as quite a sly satire." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "The laughter evoked by the book is painful: it repeatedly highlights the isolation of modern existence and redundancy of modern obsessions" - Jo-Ann Goodwin, New Statesman & Society

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Geoff Nicholson's cheerfully black comedy is several shades darker than his usual efforts. Realizing that the children are outgrowing the nest Eric takes his family for a caravan (trailer park) holiday in Skegness, imagining -- correctly -- that it will be the last opportunity for them to escape together, as a family. The Tralee Carapark and Holiday Centre may sound vaguely inviting, but it is not the ideal place for a getaway. the loud music played by the neighbors from hell, for example, does not even compare to their nasty hobby inside the trailer.
       Eric, the pater familias, is a cheerful soul who tries to see the best in everything, and he is consistently optimistically philosophical as he recounts his holiday adventure for us in the journal he keeps. His oversexed wife Kathleen (whose lifelong dream, involving a pair of dwarves, is fulfilled in Skegness), devout daughter Sally (complete with stigmata and virgin conception), and civilization-rejecting son Max (who hunts down most of the wildlife in the neighborhood) are seen as a trial, but one the father gladly endures. He is understanding of teen rebellion (though he hopes they will grow out of it) and he tries to satisfy his wife.
       Events in and around the trailer park follow in quick, nightmarish succession. Eric always tries to look on the bright side, even as he is repeatedly attacked and humiliated. A Mozart-loving police inspector Hollerenshaw adds to Eric's troubles, though he is only one of many forces that seem to conspire against Eric.
       In dead-pan style Nicholson describes the trailer park from (or rather in) hell, with Eric putting the best spin on every circumstance. The succession of events is quick as Nicholson piles on the things going wrong, the pace rarely letting up and Nicholson finding some fine twists along the way to keep the reader amused and entertained.
       Events do get decidedly ugly as Eric's life falls apart. A colleague from work also shows up to tell Eric that he has been sacked (for the indiscretions of the employee, who pretended to be Eric), and a neighbor calls first to say that the family home has been burgled, then that he accidentally burned it to the ground. Finally, when even son Max attempts a human sacrifice and wife Kathleen turns to others to satisfy her sexual desire (and daughter Sally has wandered off with the Hell's Angels) Eric has had enough.
       Good for him we say, as the book takes its darkest turn. Even this Nicholson pulls of with aplomb, and in a clever double-twist he then teases the reader before resolving the story in the only proper way.
       There is a bit of a bitter taste at the end of the novel, and the horrors throughout (too varied to list) are dark indeed, but Nicholson is funny enough to make it a sinisterly enjoyable read. There is little bile in Eric's tone, and his blind acceptance is somehow comforting (even as he finally turns the tables). It is a dark tale, and the message is not so nice -- the book is one of isolation and miscommunication in a modern age -- but Nicholson does not hammer home his moral (well, ok, there is an axe involved, but figuratively he does not hammer it home).
       Funny throughout, we think this is one of Nicholson's more successful fictions and we recommend it highly.

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Reviews: Geoff Nicholson: Other books by Geoff Nicholson under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       English author Geoff Nicholson, born in Sheffield in 1953, has written a flurry of novels. He lives in London and New York.

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