by LJK Setright
Published by Palawan, £300. (Special Edition £695) ISBN 095 23 00 966
Publisher and author are well-matched, as the head of Palawan uses a Bristol for everyday travel, and LJK Setright has famously been an exponent of the marque for many years. And as the extensive text makes clear, the company is as unusual as its chronicler.
The photography is impressive and the lay-out beautiful, but why was it necessary to make one book of pictures and one of words, portentously titled The Image and The Word? It makes the whole difficult to take in. Illustrating the text would have provided the occasional breather from Setright’s impressive but unrelenting scholarliness: the story swims in a sea of peripheral information about rubber hysteresis and Hebraic roots of Greek names.
The fulsome prose must offer the definitive Bristol tale, crammed with historical detail and personal anecdote and punctuated with abstruse quotations from Virgil, Milton and A A Milne. Luckily the footnotes are in the margins, as there are 241 of them; even the heading for Chapter One has a footnote. Some add useful background details, some allow LJKS to parade the pedantry he rejoices in (accurately rendering the plural of thermos as thermoi).
This might just be the book LJKS was put here to write, in which his own attachment to the subject can flourish alongside his philosophical view of engineering. And Palawan is probably the only publisher who would have indulged him so. Informative and complete, irritating and engrossing, the book is as eccentric as the company it portrays so well.