Unruly review by David Mitchell – a gruesome story with added swearing | Books

IIn his introduction to Unruly, comedian and Observer columnist David Mitchell says his book is “an anecdotal explanation of England, focusing on what I find most interesting.” Most often it has something to do with a person wearing a glittery metal hat. A sort of Horrible Histories with added swearing, Unruly is divided into sections including Pre-Willy, i.e. before 1066; The Dukes of Hazard (which crosses two Williams, two Henrys, a Stephen, Richard and John); Here Comes the Reign Again (Henry III followed by three Edwards) and Everything’s Coming Up Roses (all others up to Elizabeth I).

Told by Mitchell in his usually sardonic RP tone, the book does not aim for academic seriousness. Instead, it’s chatty, irreverent, and liberally peppered with gags and opinions. Mitchell is upset by Edward the Confessor who was “a candied bastard, who came to England at the same time as Alfred (Ætheling) but returned to Normandy and was happily munching Camembert at the time Alfred had his eyes gouged out”, and by Henry VIII who “lived his life in public, like a cross between Kerry Katona and Vladimir Putin”. He doesn’t accept Henry II’s question about ridding him of the “turbulent priest” Thomas Becket and says it was more likely along the lines of: “What kind of bunch of saps have I been surrounded by that they let me be treated. like shit by this fucking oik? In recounting tales of family hatred, infidelity, torture, murder, and spectacular incompetence, Mitchell maintains a cheerful tone even as his knowledge is unquestionable.

Unruly is available via Penguin Audio, 11h 39m.

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