Review – On My Way to Jorvik

Cover of On My Way to Jorvik by John SunderlandOn My Way to Jorvik, John Sunderland

The most interesting part of this book, for me, is obviously the Jorvik part. It’s fascinating to see how someone with no experience managed to get into a big project like the one at Jorvik, and then create something pretty much universally acclaimed for the way it changed people’s relationship to the history there.

The problem is, the book is about the way to Jorvik as much as Jorvik itself, so there’s all sorts of distractions along the way, and details about Sunderland I wasn’t that interested in. Not just the formative incidents of skipping school to browse in museums, but also his relationships, his pre-Jorvik projects no matter how irrelevant, and weird incidents of the type that happen to nearly everyone at least once: a lady in a cinema with a “suspiciously deep voice” offering him sweeties. Some of the incidents are interesting, and Sunderland has a vivid imagination, but mostly I was just waiting for the parts about Jorvik, and wondering why the hell I’d be interested in that anecdote from the cinema, or what exactly Sunderland did on his days skiving from school.

There was some interest in it on another level, because Sunderland’s a Yorkshire lad, and while I wouldn’t say I’m a Yorkshire lass, I did grow up there, and I could put the things he said into that context and see how utterly Yorkshire he was being — things he said, his attitudes, etc. I doubt that’s going to be a big draw for many people, but it was part of the enjoyment for me: wry smiles and snorts of recognition.

The part about the actual Jorvik project is interesting. He doesn’t talk much about the dig or the actual findings there: he talks about how they set up the space, preservation methods, how they got those ‘piped smells’ sorted out, the commissioning of the figures… I’ve been to Jorvik, though not recently; possibly even long enough ago that I saw something like the exhibition Sunderland created, even though he says it’s been revamped and changed now. So it was interesting to get a behind the scenes view of how a very unique museum was put together, by someone outside the museum business, and how it upped the ante for other projects and museums. It is ultimately an autobiography, though, not a book about Jorvik.

Rating: 3/5

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