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Gulp - Mary Roach ****

I have to be honest, I wasn't particularly looking forward to this book, and put off reading it for quite a while. In part this because anything vaguely medical makes me feel queasy, while as someone who suffers from a serious chronic gastrointestinal problem, Mary Roach's subtitle 'adventures on the alimentary canal' was not encouraging. As it happens, though, the experience was not all bad.

In her usual style, Roach pulls in a lot of characters along the way, from sword swallowers to 'fartistes' (sic) including the inevitable lighting of inflammable gasses, which is where a lot of the fun in the book comes from. Her humorous writing style lacks the subtlety of a Bill Bryson - if I'm honest, I find it a trifle irritating - but a lot of people do like it, with newspaper reviews describing it as 'seriously funny' and 'laugh a minute.'

What's more you certainly will learn a lot more about a part of our bodily system that few of us (who don't suffer from GERD) give little thought to as we pile in the food, really forgetting it after the eating part of the experience, and then dispose of the, erm, detritus from the other end. So it genuinely is educational and sometimes fascinating. I particularly enjoyed, for instance, the section on being swallowed alive, where at least there was a chance to get away from the human digestive tract for a while.

This is without doubt a good book, which is why I've given it more stars than I would on my own personal reaction. However, to get the most out of it, I think it's fair to say you need a strong stomach, which I don't have. So I'm afraid it's a book that is more likely to get flushed than to come back for a second tasting.


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Review by Brian Clegg

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