For his book The Dark Tourist, Dom Joly visited places commonly associated with death and pain: Iran, Cambodia, North Korea etc. The result is an interesting book, but one that overstays its welcome (like Joly, I imagine, ho ho).
His writing technique here involves detailing almost everything about his trip: every meal, every person met, every Tex Mex bar. Having never read any of Joly’s other work, I can’t say if that’s his natural style or perhaps his publisher encouraged him to stretch this book out to some 270 pages. But this book would be much improved if an editor put a few dozen pages to the sword.
My personal preference is for travel writing to lean towards the longform; I often feel shortchanged by shorter pieces, which are often so focused on one small element that they never capture any feeling of travel or adventure. I want a greater sense of being there, which mostly only longer work can bring.
Dark Tourist, despite its word count, gives only a dull impression of these locales—Joly’s descriptions are perfunctory. There’s also little connective tissue as he moves from place to place, his writing simply follows chronologically, one heavy step after another. This book makes it obvious that to write a detailed but interesting journal requires a lot of talent. Joly tries, and does a reasonable job, but he struggles to make his journeys engaging. Injecting elements of successful fiction would’ve helped too: a narrative framework, a dash of mystery, some human drama.
Dark Tourist is a perfectly acceptable book, reasonably good fun and funny at times. But it lacks excitement, and any style that would make it re-readable. For my copy, Joly’s next trip will be to the nearest charity shop.