John Gimlette - Reviews

Elephant Complex Elephant Complex

"A brilliant work of travel, history and psychological insight ... As for Mr Gimlette, it is hard to think of a more astute and sympathetic companion ... [He] writes beautifully, all freshness and verve. And he is also very funny"
Dominic Zeigler, The Wall Street Journal

"[a] brilliant new book about an island that has a geography from heaven and a history from hell"
Michael Kerr, The Daily Telegraph

"Rich in humour, full of insight and humanity, Elephant Complex is a very fine tribute to this enigmatic island nation."
Justin Marozzi, The Spectator

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" To each self-assigned itinerary, he brings the open mind, the erudition and the eye for telling detail that must delight the courts. In Gimlette’s travels no rogue is denied a fair hearing; no hint of the absurd eludes his attention and no metaphor misfires "
John Keay, The Times Literary Supplement

" In Elephant Complex amazing places are connected by stories from history and encounters with colourful people in the present. "
Robert S Davis, The New York Journal of Books

" a complex tapestry of pace and anecdote, swerving from journalism to poetic prose .. a wonderful travel book imbued with a gentle sense of humour as well as acid observation "
Gehan de Silva Wijeratne, The Sunday Times (Ceylon)

" Another excellent, flinty-eyed bit of travel journalism. "

" A hard book to put down … Gimlette is easily able to draw readers into this colourful land. "
The South China Morning Post

" An astonishing multifaceted portrait of the island today ... [a land] all brought to vibrant, fascinating life here on the page. "
Marshall Zeringue,

" informative and entertaining "
Tyler Cowen,

" To read Elephant Complex is to get the most accurate and thorough modern history of Sri Lanka – and to read it is to understand what it is that makes it so magical, in spite of its recent ugliness. "

" Travel writing remains among the undead in the literary trade. Gimlette is one of its resuscitators ... "
Michael D Langan, (USA)

" an exceptionally interesting and enlightening read "
Sam Clark, Experience Travel

" a gripping account of an under-reported island "
Sara Wheeler, on ‘Books of the Year’. The Spectator

" Inimitable, rich, colourful prose "
National Geographic Traveller

" Gimlette’s blend of dry wit, entertaining reportage, and perceptive insights makes for another tour de force of travel writing and history, lushly green but edged in darkness "
Publishers Weekly (USA)

" Gimlette’s prose is vivid, engaging and sprinkled with humor; his perspective is that of an outsider. VERDICT: Armchair travelers, tourists, and students of contemporary Sri Lanka will relish this enthralling account’. "
Ravi Shenoy, The Library Journal (USA)

" Damaged indeed, but for many, Sri Lanka still looks and feels like paradise, and Gimlette guides us on an engaging journey through its many layers. "

" From tribesmen to Test cricketers, Sri Lanka’s people are the stars of John Gimlette’s new book, with its towns, jungles and islets a vivid backdrop "
Jane Dunford, The Guardian (UK)

" A whistle-stop tour that is breathtaking in its scope and liveliness "
Poornima Apte, Booklist

" A kaleidoscope of personal cultural and historical perspectives … Thoroughly researched, Elephant Complex gives insight into Sri Lanka like no other book. "
Lee E Cart,

" ★★★★ in anecdote [and] colourful descriptions. "
Aron Row, San Francisco Book Review

" Adventurous, intrepid and romantic. "
Yomal Senerath-Yapa, The Sunday Times (Colombo)

" A book which offers us a non-vicarious and open-ended experience rather than self-aggrandising pronouncements. And Gimlette came here prepared to listen to a variety of people, and to see, degree by degree, beyond the surface, of a culture which is freighted with complexity. He achieves this successfully because he did not presume to ‘solve’ the paradoxes or penetrate the mysteries, but has the resilience and endurance to accept the contradictions as they present themselves. "
Ceylon Today

" Gimlette’s light touch, bemused tone, and eye for beauty and character carry the reader through an otherwise heavy history without downplaying its devastating losses. He sleeps in a tree, toils up the massive 660-foot column of rock that hosts the ancient fortress of Sigiriya, wanders tea estates, makes pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak and the Buddha’s tooth, and bathes in one of the many reservoirs scattered across the inland plains. "
The Rumpus (USA)

Wild CoastWild Coast

"A completely fascinating book. It opens up a forgotten corner of the world with tremendous flair and shrewd observation"
William Boyd

"Wild Coast is funny, intelligent, revelatory"
Joseph O'Neill

"Rollicking, witty and informed...[Gimlette] has an uncanny ability to nail down his characters with a few well chosen words, [and] brings history to life. He artfully merges assiduous research with a storyteller's gift."
Oliver Balch, The Guardian (UK)

"A remarkable portrait...Wild Coast is driven by extraordinary dedication, an insatiable curiosity in everything, and an enormous empathy for other people. Gimlette’s descriptions of landscapes are often hauntingly beautiful [and] his sense of humour is engagingly dead pan’"
Michael Jacobs, The Spectator

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"An engaging odyssey...a superb travellers' tale"
The Wall Street Journal

"A gorgeously vivid depiction of one of the last untamed places on the planet"
Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times

"A fascinating tale or rebels and remote jungle, snakes and slavery. Perfect armchair adventure."
The Financial Times

"Gimlette...keeps us up late at night with colourful, almost unbelievable stories and wry, witty commentary."
The Globe and Mail

"A wonderfully entertaining account of a journey through one of the world’s least-known places … colourful and immensely readable."
Kirkus Book Reviews (US)

"The book is that good, the descriptions that detailed, that you can lose yourself in it so, so easily. Comparisons to Bill Bryson are obvious but unavoidable"
Zoe Page,

"Wild Coast, a fine expression of the spirit of the place, is the best kind of travel writing: tough-minded and humorous, but above all thoughtful"
Ian Thomson, Times Literary Supplement

"A fountain of bizarre and wonderful information."
Outside magazine (US)

" intoxicating level of detail."
Tom Hawker, Wanderlust

"an evocative writer."
The Daily Mail

Malcolm Jones, (US)

"Lively, very British style."
The Washington Independent Review of Books

"‘[An] observant chronicle … displaying open-minded curiosity, Gimlette’s marvellous depiction of the tropics ranges far from the tourist track."
Booklist (US)

"Hugely enjoyable, moving, eye-opening and memorable...A brave journey, superbly told - the kind of book you don't want to end."
Matthew Parker, author of 'Hell’s Gorge'

"Gimlette's tales are refreshing and enlightening...There is no question that this is an excellent read."
Mary Bor, Curious

"John Gimlette’s majestic descriptions of people and places in remote lands has already given him a place as one of our most talented travel writers."
Col John Blashford Snell, The Journal of the Scientific Exploration Society

"Too many travel books depend on a spurious hook. Gimlette needs only a healthy curiosityand his innate ability to bring scenes alive on the page; this is well-written, insightful and gripping."
Mick Herron, Geographical

"Gimlette has an eye for a juicy story, a willingness to embark on harebrained journeys and a gleeful way with similes, all of which makes this an entertaining guide to a forgotten corner of the globe."
Siobhan Murphy, Metro (UK)

"A meaty and unusual travelogue."
Associated Press

"Interesting and engaging."
Ianthe Butt, Real Travel (UK)

"An entertaining and learned travelogue."
National Geographic Traveler (US)

"Gimlette has a knack for giving readers a solid history of an obscure local and a summary of the current situation...recommended."
The Library Journal (US)

"I really cannot recommend this book enough; it really does leave you drooling with the thought of adventure..."
Rich Poulter,

"Beautiful but occasionally brutal, the Wild Coast is one of the great forgotten corners of the earth."
The Voice (UK)

"Gimlette’s got a good sense of humour, refuses to put himself at the centre of the narrative and is good at the art of listening. He's also got an evident love for the people and wild environment of the region and many of the passages dealing with the beauty of the hard–to-access interior and the animals that it supports are a sheer joy."
Steve Andrew, The Morning Star

"In his new book, celebrated London-based travel writer John Gimlette travels through [the Guianas]...As he journeys across a land of complex internal waterways, long stretches of coastline, thick jungles, mudflats and sugar cane plantations, a rich and exotic culture is revealed."
The Weekly Review (Australia)

Bookseller (UK)

"an enticing portrait of the Guianas."

"A healthy does of humour, knowledge, sincerity and poetry...As with all good travel books, the pace of Gimlette’s investigations and the idiosyncratic nature of his discoveries, no matter how small, are infectious enough to ensure his account holds its own against these literary greats."
Freddie Reynolds, Traveller

At the Tomb of the Inflatable PigPanther Soup

"This is a book about the appetites of war and peace - for food, sex, and human comfort - unbridled, sordid and somehow, in their ability to lead a civilisation back to itself, redeeming."
The New Yorker

"An important book, reminding us of the links between old and new world, ideals and ideologies, war and peace in our phoenix-like continent. It is at once raw and erudite, deeply moving and strangely leisurely. It is also rich in black humour and insight."
Rory MacLean, The Guardian (UK)

"A moving, often humorous, and thoroughly enjoyable account that works as both a wartime recollection and travelogue … Gimlette strikes just the right notes in juxtaposing the past and the present. He has provided a fine chronicle with broad appeal to general readers."
Jay Freeman, Booklist (USA)

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"This new excursion into history reveals another range of Gimlette’s skills. His ability to transport you to a foreign country is evidently transferable to a foreign time."
Charles Trueheart, (USA)

"Excellent and well as fascinating glimpses into the landscapes shaped by the conflict, this is a moving and bleakly funny book about past and present, and the madness of war."
Clover Stroud, The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

"So Gimlette’s idea of co-operation [with Flint] was a fine conception, and is well executed. His droll humour and discerning eye excite the whole..."
The Times (UK)

"A very special piece of travel writing. To journey past familiar European landmarks with someone who knew them in the post-war chaos of the 1940s is both moving and illuminating."
Tim Butcher, author of Blood River

"An original travel book, written in vigorous prose and exhaustively researched …it has at its heart a profound understanding of the “soup” – the chaos and madness – of war."
Nigel Richardson, The Daily Telegraph (UK)

"Wittily written explorations of time space and character."
Craig Whitney, The New York Times

"A book that works on many levels – historical guide, social history, moving reunion of people and place – and does each superbly."
Simon Ward, Wanderlust (Book of the Month)

"One of the quirkiest, most thoughtful and illuminating books to have come my way in a long time."
Nigel Jones, The Literary Review (UK)

"Gimlette has a gift for travel writing with details of the most intimate kind, the small change and ammunition of a soldier’s life."
Hugh Thomson, The Independent (UK)

"An extraordinary effectual account full of telling detail."
Laurence Mackin, The Irish Times

"A fascinating journey."
Sandi Toksvig, Excess Baggage, BBC Radio

"[Gimlette] has a real eye for detail and an eloquence not common in modern travel writing. He can get it spot on with a casual flick of the pen, and there are times when his linguistic cantrips are a real joy...In Panther Soup we have confirmation that John Gimlette is one of the foremost travel writers of today."
Nick Smith, Bookdealer (UK)

"The book gave me a real feel for the complexities of the events of 1945 as well as their contemporary legacy. That is due in no small part to Gimlette’s skill as a writer...he revels in the oddities of the communities he visits and, like any good travel writer, he makes you want to see those places for yourself."
Paul Harrop, The Bookbag (UK)

"Gimlette is an assured enough writer to reveal a very different contemporary Europe, constructed on the smouldering ruins of its predecessor."
Alex Stewart, The Traveller (UK)

A very good book... [it] takes a very intelligent angle on such a key part of our recent history, showing how no French region can really be understood without acknowledging what it went through not so long ago."
France Magazine (UK)

"This book is a remarkable achievement, beautifully written, deeply human, and a fascinating journey through the past and present."
Robert C Ross, first reviewer,

"Enchanting moments of verbal cleverness … a great read."
Gareth Rosser, French magazine (UK)

"It should surprise no one that Gimlette has written another excellent travel book. But perhaps even he did not expect it to be so moving a tribute , not just to Flint and his colleagues , but to everyone who, in 1944, found themselves in the European soup."
Edward Bishop, Counsel (UK)

At the Tomb of the Inflatable PigTheatre of Fish

"This is a dark book ... But it is also an exhilarating one, lit up by the vividness of the reporting, the sense of history it conveys, and the irresistible verve of Gimlette's prose. It told me a great deal I did not know and am glad to know, and entertained me greatly."
Tom Fort, The Sunday Telegraph

"Terrific stuff …A dazzlingly multi-faceted portrait of the region … A hugely entertaining book in which the interest never flags … As a descriptive writer, a master of the telling observation and the well-chosen epithet, [Gimlette] is in the highest class."
Max Davidson, The Daily Telegraph

"Readers will be fascinated by Newfoundland’s and Labrador’s bizarre, often tragic pasts and equally strange presents, and they will be glad it was the eloquent Gimlette who made the trip so they don’t have to."
Publishing Weekly

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"A picaresque story of human strangeness ... a fascinating book."
Libby Purves, Midweek, BBC Radio 4

"A lovely and affectionate travel book ... I’m sure this book will be popular, and Gimlette sounds like a warm-hearted man who’d be a delight to travel with"
Michael Winter, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Vivid comic prose ... where his relative tried to spread order and organisation, collate the flora and label the fauna, it is, Gimlette writes, 'the unruly Newfoundland that I’d admired most', its 'smashed coasts and crackery people.' It is an unruliness that seeps from the pages of this highly entertaining book."
Joanna Kavenna, The Spectator (uk)

"With his quiet respectability shining throughout, Gimlette’s tale is not just a travel yarn or a family history, it tells a story in its own right too."
The Sunday Express (UK)

"A book rich with bizarre incident and anecdotes."
Sarah Hampson, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"An exceptional piece of travel writing ... John Gimlette fears that Newfoundlanders will mistrust his book. They shouldn’t, even though the residents of ‘The Rock’ think it impossible for any foreigner to portray them accurately."
Christopher Ondaatje, The Literary Review

"Whilst [Gimlette] displays a great affection for the tough people who live in this vast, barren area, he graphically portrays the poverty he found, especially in the wake of the collapsed cod industry ... a must for anyone who wants to understand Canada’s last province."
Yvonne Crittenden, The Toronto Sun

"A salty, colourful tale."
Waterstones, Books Quarterly

"If you have fears that the world is becoming a homogenous place, then this is a good antidote: a powerful picture of a wild and extreme place with people to match."
Publishing News (UK)


Nominated as one of The 100 Notable Books of the Year'
The New York Times

"Always beautifully written and brimming with Gimlette’s appreciation for the landscape and those who inhabit it."
The International Herald Tribune

"Gimlette is laugh-out-loud funny. His nature is to be thrilled, not put off, by the unruly and the odd."
Elizabeth Royte, The New York Times

"The hilarious British travel writer who put Paraguay on the map with "At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig" takes a trek north to Newfoundland and Labrador, where his great-grandfather traveled in 1893."
The Seattle Times

"One of the most eccentric places in the world. Gimlette describes the province’s often desolate landscape and its colourful history. But most of all he revels in the people themselves..."
The Chicago Tribune

"An outstanding travel/adventure book ... a seamless witty narrative that often rivals Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole for strangeness."
Tom Powers, The Flint Journal

"Handsomely written"
Anthony Day, The Loss Angeles Times

Oddly compelling ... a feast of stories, gathered from taverns ferry rides, and old journals: drownings, battles with the ‘Esquimaux’, greenhorns challenging an unforgiving wilderness..."
Jerry V Haines, Washington Post

"A remarkable travel book … Gimlette is one of those writers you will search out. You’ll wish you could read everything he writes, for he does so with wit, enthusiasm, empathy, an eye to historical accuracy and fairness."
John Davis, The Decatur Daily (US)

"A lively, idiosyncratic book."
Newsday (New York)

"The arrival of a new book by John Gimlette, barrister and author of the critically acclaimed At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, is a cause for celebration. Few modern writers knit such meticulous prose, boast such a keen eye for detail, or possess such mordant wit … Theatre of Fish is a superbly apt title for the results. As a kind of outpost on the edge of the Americas, Newfoundland’s people seem to have an almost Dickensian quirkiness, perfect for Gimlette’s approach. Yet perhaps most admirably, the book holds them up to the light without a hint of ridicule. As in Paraguay, the author appears genuinely drawn to its cast of lost souls, eccentrics and the bizarre. Similarly, much of the history he recounts is darkly unpleasant, and yet he manages to recount it without either losing his sense of humour or perspective. Intellectually, Theatre of Fish is a delight."
Piers Moore Ede, The Traveller (Wexas)

At the Tomb of the Inflatable PigAt the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig

"[Gimlette] writes with enormous wit, indignation and a heightened sense of the absurd, qualities that make him a particularly keen observer in this antique, often unlucky land ... His account is so rich in anecdotes, so suffused in color and dialect that we are left with a sense of having somehow inhaled all this Paraguayan history and then experienced it through a nightmare or a dream. Gimlette has given us a cast of characters as vivid as any by Dickens or Waugh."
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"An exceptional piece of travel writing."
Matthew Parris, Books of the Year 2003 Sunday Telegraph

"[Gimlette] was immediately attracted to this mysterious country, and tells its remarkable story brilliantly … Full of surprises, this is a riveting read."
Max Davidson, Sunday Telegraph

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"An extraordinary book, part history, part travelogue …so vivid that nobody reading it is ever likely to forget the country … a book that sheds fascinating light on a forgotten corner of Latin America."
Daily Telegraph

"A truly wonderful exploration of one of the world’s most captivating countries ... Brilliant."
Sunday Express

"John Gimlette ... has written a glorious travel book, his first, in which the country’s craziness is portrayed with humour, insight and considerable deftness of touch ... As a historian of the absurd he is superlative."
Edward Marriot, Sunday Times

"Perceptive and entertaining."
Times Literary Supplement

"Gimlette has a winning style."
The Spectator

"Alternating succinct historical background with tales of contemporary life, peopled by a cast of lost souls, his story is a highly entertaining one..."
Phil Baker, Sunday Times

"This is a cracking read."

"Paraguayan enthusiasts and others more generally interested in Latin America will find much to their taste in Gimlette’s book. He has a firm grasp of the country’s intriguing past, and a watchful eye on its perplexing present."
The Literary Review

"Blackly comical"
The Mail on Sunday

"John Gimlette’s luminous prose, quirky humour and savvy knowledge of Paraguay’s past and present make this a travel book of the very highest order ... An observer like this is an even rarer bird that those he describes. Gimlette marries a lawyer’s unruffled gaze with the ardent pen of a poet."
Wexas ‘Traveller’ Magazine

"Wonder and outrage fuel this fizzing traveller’s tale, often wittily frivolous but often, too, much bothered by political crimes and the legacies of old evils."
The Times

"A rollicking read … Gimlette is an articulate writer and his turn of phrase jumps off the page. It helps that he has the reader hooked from the very first paragraph … part of Gimlette’s talent is his ability to portray complicated events and horrific people and the unpleasant things they’ve done in a darkly comic manner without ever sounding glib … a captivating book."
Geographical (UK)

"Off-the-wall title, and great off-centre entertainment with a smashing, entertaining piece of writing from Cheshire’s John Gimlette."
Manchester Evening News

" was immediately intrigued. I bought it and couldn’t put it down … Just as Bill Bryson changed the ‘over here’ travelogue, this one has given a new lease of life to historical background travelogues."
John Burton, World Land Trust

"A fascinating mixture of travelogue and history. Keeping an urbanely witty prose style throughout, he undercuts his various journeys around Paraguay with an in-depth and well-researched look at the history of this eclectic and peculiar nation."
The Good Book Guide

"One of our favourite travel books of 2003 … a hilarious travelogue, history and unorthodox travel guide."
Food & Travel

"Gimlette’s stiff upper lip is a marvellous foil to the adventures, and he writes with uncommon panache."
Hampstead & Highgate Express

"A vivid evocation of a nation so eccentric that it calls in Scotland Yard when the vice-president is murdered."

"A marvellously rumbustious, enjoyable and evocative debut."
Publishing News (UK)

"Gimlette records it all with verve, precision and a rollicking sense of timing. He has presented us with a page turner of a travel book that mixes culture and criminality, decadence and despair with a bizarre flair that must approximate the country itself." review

"A serious yet highly readable volume ... Gimlette has done his homework and has distilled a rip-roaring tome."

"Hugely addictive … Gimlette’s talents are wickedly formidable."
Wag magazine


"Graham Greene arrived in Paraguay hoping to find ‘some mingling of the exotic, the dangerous and the Victorian’. He was not disappointed. Gimlette has captured that mingling as powerfully as Greene did."
Ben MacIntyre, The New York Times

"[Gimlette] writes with enormous wit, indignation and a heightened sense of the absurd, qualities that make him a particularly keen observer in this antique, often unlucky land … His account is so rich in anecdotes, so suffused in color and dialect that we are left with a sense of having somehow inhaled all this Paraguayan history and then experienced it through a nightmare or a dream. Gimlette has given us a cast of characters as vivid as any by Dickens or Waugh."
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Gimlette knows his subject cold, and it’s a subject bound to have something for everyone …An accessible read, crammed full of a wild cast of characters and incredible experiences."
San Francisco Chronicle

"A hilarious, informed anti-travelogue… with generous detail grounded in the author’s personal experiences, this is a travel book of the mind."
The Boston Globe

"A wonderful, wacky book …It is filled with the offbeat and the bizarre. Gimlette’s narrative attempts to flesh out a country that is as difficult to define as nailing Jell-O to a wall. Vivid, riotous, fascinating and never dull, his book is wildly entertaining..."
Tucson Citizen

"A wildly entertaining read: a raucous blend of history, travelogue, and a guide to one of the last untouristed spots on earth."
Condé Nast Traveler (USA)

"For me, there was no resisting Gimlette’s rollicking account."
The San Diego Union-Tribune

"For sheer bravado, the prize goes to John Gimlette …His first book, At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig … should be ranked among the best explorations of its kind: at once a history and a guide to one of the least hospitable nations on earth."
The Washington Times

"A Superior travel book."
Foreign Affairs (pub. Council on Foreign Relations)(USA)

"What keeps you reading about Paraguay, maybe in spite of yourself, is Gimlette’s marvellous wit and eye for character … you spot some delicious looking conversation … you pause over a description … and bang, you’re a goner, like Alice down the rabbit hole."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (USA)

"A spirited travelogue … a richly detailed catalog of oddities and horrors, the kind of eccentricities that flourish in isolation."
Outside (USA)

"An improbably titled but supremely lucid journey … Gimlette moves back and forth in time, weaving modernity and history, observation and reflection into a mesmerising fabric."
The New Zealand Herald

"A tome that blends travelogue, history and flights of descriptive whimsy to highly tonic effect … You couldn’t ask for a more entertaining guide."
The Seattle Times

"Paraguay, the ‘island surrounded by land’ is one of the strangest, most fascinating, least understood countries in the world. English attorney, John Gimlette, a frequent visitor ... does it justice."
The Oregonian (USA)

"A wonderfully bizarre evocation of Paraguay …The writing is at turns dryly humourous, moving and shocking. How could it be that the world doesn’t know about this place? … The reader is left wanting more … surely this is the measure of good travel writing: despite the awful conditions and incomprehensible destination, this place is now the only place the reader wants to go."
The Otago Times (NZ)

"Exuberant travelogue."
The Sunday Tribune (Dublin)

"A fantastically written book."
The Library Journal (USA)

"[Gimlette] never fails to impress with his ingenuity, sincerity and sense of humor."
Publishers Weekly (USA)

"Fascinating and compulsively readable."
Booklist (USA)

"John Gimlette has done the world a great service with his new book … It’s terrifically funny … A great book in the noble tradition of British travel writing."
Hartford Advocate, CT

"I haven’t enjoyed a book from the “travel” genre so much since Bruce Chatwin’s landmark In Patagonia." review

"Splendidly rendered."
National Geographical’s ‘Five Faves’


Out now - 'Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka'
Click on the books for more information.