Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey
‘A time may come in your life’, Isolarion begins, ‘when you feel the need to make a pilgrimage.’ But when it does, how is a parent with a full-time job to respond to the call?
The answer is by starting close to home. Attlee takes us on a journey down one teeming, multicultural street in his neighbourhood, which connects the ancient university city with the car factory in Cowley. This is a different Oxford to the one we know from Brideshead and Inspector Morse, with its shops, restaurants, music venues and places of worship offering philosophies and flavours from across the globe. Why go to the other side of the world, Attlee asks, when a world awaits discovery just outside your front door?
At once a charming road movie, a spirited defence of a pluralistic society and a call to celebrate the eclectic vitality of British cities, the message of Isolarion feels all the more timely at the beginning of the century’s third decade.
Read an Excerpt
- This is a reissue from And Other Stories, with a new preface by the author and an afterword by Geoff Dyer.
- James Attlee’s other books include acclaimed Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight and Station to Station.
‘The attraction, for Attlee, is that the Cowley Road ’is both unique and nothing special’; the resulting book is unique and very special . . . Residents of East Oxford can be proud to have this eccentric advocate and eloquent explorer in their midst.’
‘Attlee proves that good travel writing is not about where you go, or how you go there, but the way that you look at the world that you pass through.’
‘Isolarion, despite its title, is about engagement. Attlee shows the hidden beauty of the plural society.’
Richard B. Woodward
The New York Times
‘A new Oxford that no guide book has yet captured.’
‘Attlee captures the essence of this city better than any tour bus ever could.’
‘A vivid account of daily life, fluid and unsettling, in a modern British town with powerful allegorical reflections on the connections between past and present, time and space, and high culture and the hard-scrabble world that sustains it. Oxford may be the city of lost causes, and this book is indeed ambitious; it could easily sound sententious or twee. But it works, gloriously.’
Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse
‘I have written much about the streets of Oxford myself, but seldom so perceptively or interestingly . . . Anyone who can drag Lucretius, Susanna, Bathsheba, and St. Jerome into a Cowley Road porn shop deserves our attention and admiration.’
‘I have never read a better book about Oxford – its oddities and eccentricities. The peripatetic local form of James Attlee’s delightful book makes it a storehouse of information as well as a joy to read for its wit and humour.’
National Geographic Traveler
‘All the messy glories of Cowley Road – pubs and porn shops alike – come to life in this work, which becomes a meditation on home and the nature of pilgrimage.’
‘A force for good when it comes to resisting the drive and the dismal dialect of modernisation . . . To stiffen the sinews for the rearguard action every Oxonian should buy this book.’
‘With an eclecticism that ropes in Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, Foucault, a porn shop and a Jamaican restaurant, Attlee scrutinises a sense of place. He reminds me of the old scholars, chock full of intellectual curiosity and an almost alchemical sensibility. Here you will find wry humour, intellectual curiosity, strangeness and charm.’
‘The fish-out-of water travelogue is a staple of the bookstore, but Attlee . . . has set himself a different task: to be the fish, and to give a detailed description of the properties of the water. . . Attlee’s reading is deep and wide and engagingly circuitous, and this book frequently provides the delights of discovery that make any adventure worth undertaking.’
‘In an age in which air travel opens up the world, and holidays are to escape the mundane, Attlee encourages us to look at the riches on our doorstep . . . The end of our journey as humankind is not known, but Isolarion provides an invaluable guide to how to progress along the way.’
Sydney Morning Herald
‘The vignettes, like marks on a painting by a pointillist, eventually coalesce to become a beautiful work of art.’
‘It’s now a familiar story of the local versus the global; the tide of increasing uniformity as chains proliferate and streets succumb to banal prescriptions . . . But Attlee tells the story vividly and well, and it’s a book that anyone concerned for the future of their own town’s Cowley Road could read with profit.’