Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Books Campaign: Incontinent on the Continent by Jane Christmas

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

Incontinent on the Continent is printed on acid-free paper that is forest friendly (100% post-consumer recycled paper) and has been processed chlorine free.


When I requested Incontinent on the Continent: My Mother, Her Walker, and Our Grand Tour of Italy by Jane Christmas, I expected an enjoyable, warm story of a mother and daughter, and their escapades in Italy. It's quite the contrary. It's not enjoyable, not warm, and the relationship between the mother and daughter certainly didn't live up to my expectations.

Jane Christmas and her mother never did get along. There was a "wary coolness" between them, but it was her father's deathbed request that she "make friends with your mother." He had always been the buffer between them. Christmas says her mother judges the entire world by hairstyles, and Jane usually fails. "Over the years, I have made peace with my hair, but I have not done so with my mother. I wanted us to go to Italy to see if I could finally fall in love with her. This trip was my olive branch."

That trip was a disaster. Neither mother nor daughter were realistic about the trip to Italy. Jane's mother never told her about all of her health issues. She was incontinent, had osteoarthritis in her knees, asthma, heart problems, diabetes, and needed a walker to get around. She was not the ideal travel companion for Christmas, a woman who flew by the seat of her pants, and made no more plans than flying in to Italy, with a rental car waiting. They hadn't even packed proper clothes for the trip, travelling out of season, when restaurants and shops were often closed, and the weather was rainy. And, Italy didn't turn out to be very accessible for a disabled traveller.

In some hands, this disastrous trip could have been very funny. Christmas spent three hundred pages complaining bitterly, resenting her mother's physical condition and infirmities. The most I can say is that at least she was brutally honest about their relationship. And, five weeks together did alert her to her mother's conditions and needs as she aged.

But, to be honest, I felt as if I spent five weeks reading this book since Christmas was so grumpy about the trip. I wouldn't recommend Incontinent on the Continent to anyone, unless they were already a pessimist, "knowing" Europe doesn't live up to North America for food, hotels, or accessibility.

Incontinent on the Continent: My Mother, Her Walker, and Our Grand Tour of Italy by Jane Christmas. Douglas & McIntyre, ©2009. ISBN: 9781553654001 (hardcover), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure: This book was sent to me through Eco-Libris, to review for the Green Books Campaign.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Sounds kind of depressing, actually! As you mentioned, it could have been completely the opposite if she'd dealt with the challenges with humor and they'd gotten closer, emotionally, during the trip.

Mystery Writing is Murder

bermudaonion said...

Too bad, because the cover and title are just great!

Lesa said...

Actually, Elizabeth, it was depressing. For me, the author's attitude toward her mother was the most depressing. Granted, it didn't sound as if her mother was an easy person to live with, but all she did in this book was use it as an outlook to complain.

Lesa said...

You're right, Bermudaonion. I was very disappointed because I thought this was going to be a fun book.

Mason Canyon said...

Sounds like a book to stay away from. But, thanks for letting us know about the Green Books campaign. That's sounds interesting. I don't want to give up my paper books, but I know we need to be more Eco-friendly about printing. Thanks again.

Lesa said...

You're right, Mason. I'd like to keep all of the paper books, and be more Eco-friendly. I hope you check out some of the other blogs.

Maria said...

I'm helping; the last book I read was an ebook (Jim Chambers...Recollections) It has a longer title than that, but I read the ebook version!

I know, you're "green" with envy. Okay, okay, bad pun!


Serena said...

Wow, that is not what the cover suggests to me. That is quite a different kind of story. Thanks for the honest "green" book review.

Lesa said...

You are helping, Maria. Thanks for "going green." Actually, I liked the pun!

Lesa said...

Serena - Great cover, wasn't it? It was a shame the book wasn't as good as the cover.

therubycanary said...

Thanks for the welldone and honest review. I was intrigued by this title when I saw it on the list, but was put off a little bit by the title. Having spent many years travelling around Asia, and currently living in South Korea, I have had my share of funny bathroom stories, but this doesn't sound like one of them.

I think it's okay too discuss your own travel incontinence, but to put your travel companion's on the cover just seems snarky.

Lesa said...

That's true. And, her mother was embarrassed by it when it happened. They just never did get along.

Clea Simon said...

Lesa, I was drawn to your review by the title because I'm dealing with my own aging mother's health issues. But you know, this book doesn't sound like it would even be useful for someone in my position to read. As I started reading your review, I was thinking HOW COULD SHE BE SO UNAWARE OF HER MOTHER'S HEALTH NEEDS??? I took my mother to one of my book launch events at the very beginning of her dementia and she wet herself ever so slightly and she was so humiliated and I felt so awful for her (nobody else was aware, I believe, because we found a bathroom and we tied a sweater around her waist). And this all became obvious during a two-hour outing, 20 min. from her home. Didn't they talk before the trip?? I believe in honest writing - I've written two books about my own family issues - but this is just too much. You do it with dignity, you be as honest about yourself as with anyone else, you take responsibility, you write something that will be useful for others in a similar situation. Or you shut the f** up.

Argh... I'm going on. Thanks for throwing yourself on this grenade for us, Lesa.

Anonymous said...

OK, I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for a great title and even a good-looking book cover is enough to make me pick up a book for perusal. When I saw Incontinent on the Continent, I thought it had good possibilities. I was not disappointed.
Just published in November of 2009, Jane Christmas’ book Incontinent on the Continent relays the adventures of traveling for six weeks in Italy with her elderly mother and her mother’s red walker. What makes this interesting is that Jane and her mother have a tenuous relationship to start the trip and the author, already in her late forties, decides that it’s time to try again to make amends through this trip of “togetherness.” Christmas has a lot to learn from and about her mother over the course of the trip. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in travel and/or if you have mother-daughter issues you want to explore while getting a good laugh at yourself in the process.
Although she is quite embarrassingly grumpy about it all, Christmas posts interesting travelogue snippets about Italy that you wouldn’t normally see in a travel brochure. Her description of Italy’s road construction, the staring and gesturing of Italians, the ferry at Regggio di Calabria and several museums and cathedrals are insightful and humorous. Jane and her mother visit several popular tourist cities such as Sicily and Naples, but also hit some out of the way places that you might want to consider on your next trip to Italy – or at least dream about.
Incontinent on the Continent also poses some pondering questions on mother-daughter relationships. Christmas writes about her and her mother, “I had learned to tiptoe around so many things, to ignore the poison arrows just to keep peace. All we knew now was how to tiptoe, not to walk with the confidence that comes with unconditional love. Our self-restraint had only built up pressure and stress over the years. Like Etna and Vesuvius we heaved and boiled under the surface of a benign façade.” (p.214) Anyone who has had a less than wonderful relationship with their mother over the years can relate to where Christmas is coming from.
Jane Christmas has written several other books including: What the Psychic told the Pilgram (a treck in Spain) and The Pelee Project (escape to a Canadian island). If you are looking for another international travel book, I would recommend A Year in Provence (France) by Peter Mayle. Need something closer to national soil? Bill Bryson‘s book A Walk in the Woods (Appalachian Trail hiking) or his I’m A Stranger Here Myself (satire of “American” life and customs) are good places to start.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I, too, was drawn to the cover, but I was disappointed. So, it's nice to have another viewpoint here. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

As an experienced traveler, I found Incontinent on the Continent to be very interesting, enjoyable and worthwhile. As someone who has been a travel companion in situations where every detail was on my back and whose had companions who were very quick to criticize when anything went wrong while contributing nothing to make it better, I definitely identified.

The mother should have known her own limitations and not have saddled her daughter with a long trip where she would be tied down and unable to get much out of it. They could have had their bonding session closer to home or on a less challenging trip.

It was just so wasteful to be spending so much time in Italy and seeing so little, but the interaction between the two women held my interest. I saw right and wrong on both sides. If the mother really wanted to sleep all day, she should not have expected Jane to return in an hour as though she was a child, and calling the police - oh, please!

I also found plenty of moments of dry humor throughout the book. When the pope began to sing at the Mass, and Jane said it sounded "like Tom Waits hijacked the microphone", I laughed for ten minutes.

Lesa said...


I'm glad this book captured some of your own experiences. I know how much I enjoy a book when I can relate to it. Thank you.

Incontinent said...

Interesting blog of incontinent thanks