In a series of remarkable books – Travels in a Thin Country, Terra Incognita, Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry Garrard, Too Close to the Sun and The Magnetic North – Sara Wheeler has shown that she is not only one of the finest travel writers of her generation but a very fine biographer too. Published to coincide with her fiftieth birthday, Access All Areas gathers together a selection of her shorter pieces, both journalism and introductions to other books.
As one would expect, the frozen poles of the earth feature often, whether she is spending the night in Captain Scott’s hut or reliving the adventures of Shackleton and Nansen. But its hot places feature too – Malawi, Kerala, Cuba and Bangladesh. She writes brilliantly of her heroes – Mary Kingsley, Fanny Trollope, Norman Lewis, Jan Morris and Sybille Bedford – and about the pains and pleasures of writing biography. Worried that having her children would end her roaming, she took her children with her, to the Arctic, and on a brilliantly depicted cruise on the QE2. She learns to bellydance, to strip, and to walk on the wing of a biplane at 3000 feet.
This is an immensely varied and satisfying collection.