Those of you philistines out there who think that Flamenco is just some fancy guitar with a man wailing over the top of it, need to think again, unfortunately this book might not make you do so. Initially I was highly dubious when I was lent this book by a friend, he said to me it’s about an English bloke who goes to Alicante to learn flamenco. Alicante? Flamenco???
Now you would have to be a little mad to do this being as Flamenco is traditionally found in Andalucia and Alicante has virtually no flamenco scene whatsoever. So unfortunately I started the book thinking he was a bit naive. I was put off even more as I looked at the cover more closely, it looks like a man in drag rather than an elegant flamenco dancer.
To sum up the premise, this is the Driving Over Lemons of flamenco. The twenty something Webster arrives in Alicante to discover there isn’t much flamenco but after a few months runs into a flamenco band, is taught to teach the guitar and ends up shagging his boss’s wife who is a flamenquina. Then in an all too unbelievable episode, he gets scared as her gun toting husband is mad so he runs off to Madrid. Here he meets some gypsies plays in their band and starts taking lots of cocaine and stealing cars (also seemed a little embellished here). He later heads off to Granada, which shockingly doesn’t seem to like very much, considering he had just spent the last year living in a hovel, meets a granny, grows up and finally discovers ‘duende’ (an indescribable, heightened emotion ).
The best part of the book is the opening where he argues that “Often we end up doing what we almost want to do because we lack the courage to do what we really want to do”, and this struck a chord with me. Unfortunately I found the style of this book quite annoying, I know we are meant to be following Webster on his voyage of discovery but I just simply found him immature and irritating for example;
“Spanish was relatively easy to pick up – having already learnt Italian and Arabic it felt more like I was remembering it than learning it for the first time, and within a week English had all but disappeared”.
Bastard, I haven’t experienced this in four and a half years.
Despite this it inexplicably has brilliant reviews such as “one of the best books written about Spain” (Literary Review), “Webster is an exceptional writer” (The Guardian), and “Autobiography as travelogue’s new star is Jason Webster” (Daily Mail). It was lost on me. Maybe people who don’t live in Spain might find it informative?
I did however, appreciate his list of great flamenco at the back of the book and have been using this to further my education on this great music. I have also included my own recommendation of a couple of videos of the extremely talented and handsome dancer Antonio el Pipa which are worth marvelling at, although as with all of these, I would argue you really can’t experience ‘Duende’ unless you see it in the flesh.