Judging from just the title, You Are Awful (But I Like You) might sound like a twisted love story, but it is actually a travel book about the author’s native Britain. One could say the title is an example of dry British wit, but actually there is nothing ironic about it because the author Tim Moore really decided to take his patriotism to the limit by visiting the most depressing, rundown and unloved places in his country. The book’s subtitle is Travels through Unloved Britain which clears things up more. It’s a travel book, not about magnificent cities, beautiful scenery and cheerful people, but the complete opposite.
This book itself is full of dry, sardonic humor, with almost every paragraph dripping with it. It was kind of tough to get through in the beginning, but after a while I started getting used to it. Mind you, there is very little genuine joy in the places Moore goes to, which include the likes of Hull, Skegness and Barrow. If anything, a lot of them don’t exactly repudiate their reputation, which Moore gleamed from online “most boring” lists and articles. As if going to rundown cities and decaying beach resorts weren’t enough, Moore compounds this by staying at the dingiest and shabbiest hotels and inns, which he deliberately finds by trawling Tripadvisor and similar sites. Moore picks apart the cities and towns, both for their general decline and for the ugly town center structures and car park monstrosities that were put up during the seventies. And he visited all of them while driving an Austin Maestro, an early 80s British car which he describes as “a very British tale of delusion, sloth, incompetence and on-the-cheap botch-jobbery.”
Rather than be depressing, somehow the book becomes interesting and a few of these cities, despite their utter lack of anything remotely attractive, as Moore points out at every opportunity, still manage to seem decent to read about, if not visit. It’s not all ridicule and snark, as Moore does provide some history about these places, some of whom like Middlesbrough, were actually important and booming cities that played important roles during the Industrial Revolution. Modernization, such as the replacement of coal by oil as the main means of powering ships, and the decline of fishing, steel and shipbuilding industries, hastened by the Thatcher years, also played a part. In the end, Moore laments the shoddiness of these fallen cities, not just for their grim fates, but for their testament to a different Britain that was proud and full of confidence, even if it meant building crap town centers.
The book is a weird combination of a travelogue, albeit the most depressing one ever published, and a history book about the decline of a nation*, comes out better than it sounds.
* Don’t get me wrong, I think the UK is still a pretty good country, those are the author’s own views.