When the English racing driver Nigel Mansell won the 1986 British Grand Prix in front of thousands of cheering supporters and swept to the top of the drivers’ table, his post-race interview with the BBC’s stentorian Murray Walker contained no euphoria or shared congratulation; it concentrated on the fact that a last-minute switch of car had left him without a water bottle. ‘How do you feel?’ bellowed Walker. ‘I’m really tired,’ whined Mansell. ‘And I couldn’t have a drink of water.’ Now, after his talented but gloomy first novel Foreign Land, Jonathan Raban has produced in Coasting a sustained circuminsular whinge that threatens to confirm him as the Nigel Mansell of English letters.
The premise of Coasting is simple enough. By sailing round the shore alone in 1982 Raban hoped to gain a new perspective on the British mainland and its people. This would be a sound idea if one did not have the impression that Raban had made up his mind what