The Gran Tour is a witty, incisive travelogue from Ben Aitken--a barely-30 author who joins busloads of retirees for all-inclusive tours of England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy's Lake Como. Aitken's fine eye and spirited pen offer evocative accounts of seaside towns, misty summits and Highland pastries, but the book's heart is in the pensioners, the chatty coach-mates and bingo champs who spend a chunk of their golden years talking to the oddball youngster who's crashed their tour. When Aitken's grandmother (well, "nan") joins him on one trip, the duo becomes the subject of bus gossip: Is he a "toy boy" after her money?
With a light touch and a marvelous ear, Aitken captures the wisdom, jokes, complaints and disclosures of his companions. He's a world-class eavesdropper (the overheard remark "She's nice but just not at that time of year" is rich enough to stand as a creative writing class prompt), but he's also a sympathetic listener and interlocutor. He makes friends, asks questions, gets his people talking and then sets down their endearing, surprising flows of thought. Even as the tour cycle grows familiar--bus rides, villages, dinners, bingo nights featuring local singers--Aitken's chapters stay fresh. When a raffle winner is told, by the evening's master of ceremonies, that it's customary to share the prize with the evening's entertainer, the winner replies, "Fair enough. Just let me know when he turns up." For all the laughs, the book's power comes from Aitken's discovery of the value of greater intergenerational connection. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor