The Z-Z of Great Britain by Dixe Wills
There are 41 places in the British Isles that boast place names beginning with Z; places with such enticing monikers as Zawn Reeth, Zulu Farm and Zennor Quoit. This, and other Z-related facts, can be gleaned from Dixe Wills undeniably daft but endearing guide to all UK locations connected with the aforementioned letter.
Borrowing the structure of a conventional guidebook, with subheadings, photos, maps and so forth, Wills writes with warmth and humour about each place, undeterred by the fact that most of them turn out to be unpopulated corners of the Cornish coast or bleak stretches of moor. While he has included some material of linguistic interest surrounding the history of the letter Z, the bulk of the book is taken up with a description of the various destinations. It’s a pointless endeavour to be sure but one conducted with real charm. The main drawback is that many of the places visited, the various Zeals and the Zouchs, derive from the same etymological roots and share similar locales, and as a result the book occasionally becomes repetitious. Nonetheless Wills crams his slim guide with numerous puns, doodles and superbly quirky asides to compensate.
Wills, a researcher for the Writers In Prison Committee of International PEN, is an entertaining and delightful writer, but he has constricted himself by adhering so strictly to his guidebook structure; you long for something looser that would have allowed for longer patches of prose. An injection of narrative could have carried things further. As it is this idiosyncratic book should be filed alongside Schott’s Miscellany and other such oddball volumes.