Britannia Obscura: Mapping Hidden Britain by Joanne Parker - review by Gillian Tindall

Gillian Tindall

Lines of Site

Britannia Obscura: Mapping Hidden Britain


Jonathan Cape 192pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

All maps leave things out. They have to, not merely to fit the information they want to give into a format many thousand of times smaller than the actual stretch of land or sea, but also in order to present it with some selective coherence. Road maps are for people sitting behind steering wheels and greatly exaggerate the width of the roads while often omitting railway lines altogether. Tourist maps of towns represent ancient monuments and shops as unnaturally large while ignoring side streets. The mental maps of taxi drivers in India appear to consist entirely of landmark buildings and tea stalls. If cats had maps they would show a house as a series of desirable warm spots, soft surfaces, hiding places and escape routes.

Joanne Parker’s original and engaging Britannia Obscura lends itself to such thoughts by its lack of pretension. A great deal of research and simple physical energy has gone into her examination of the ways five different groups see and map the same territory of Great Britain, while a slight eccentricity

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

East of the Wardrobe

Follow Literary Review on Twitter