In Miniature by Simon Garfield

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

One of the places that we spent a lot of time when my children were grown up was Wimborne model town, we even bought a season ticket. They were fascinated by the tiny shop windows and the even tinier items displayed inside. There was a touch of humour for the adults if you knew where to look. This fascination with all things reduced in size is not just for children though, there are many grown-ups who share that same feeling

In this book on all things tiny, Garfield is seeking all those people that share these interests or to be franker, in a lot of cases, obsessions. Garfield travels will take him to different model towns around the country, a Blandford gentleman called Philip Warren who has built hundreds of boats out of matchsticks. The display he had at the corn exchange there was enough to fill it and that was only half the boats that he had made.

Model railways are a passion for a lot of people (mostly men) and one person who I hadn’t expected to be a fan, is 1970’s pop star, Rod Stewart. He has a massive model railway and loves the hobby so much that he takes s small layout on tour. Doll Houses can be works of art in their own right, and the one he writes about in the book was one made by Sir Edward Lutyens for Queen Mary. It is huge too, 5 feet high and 8 feet long with working electricity and pipes and even a library with 700 readable books.

Two of my favourite chapters were on books and art. There is even a convention in America for enthusiasts of these tiny works of literature. The smallest at this event measured 0.7mm x 0.7mm and had twenty-two pages. The art chapter has an image of Ronald McDonald on a crucifix, which I must admit I wasn’t expecting. This is the work of Dinos Chapman and his studio has lots of these macabre models around.

Models are often used to sell an idea, I remember seeing these in public places in 1970 as the council was trying to explain how they were going to squander your money on a swimming pool no one really wanted. It was a model that changed a lot of people’s mind on the slave trade too, Wilberforce has a model made showing the way that our fellow humans were crammed into these ships and taken across the Atlantic.

I really enjoyed reading this. Like the other books of his that I have read, this is a well researched and thoughtful exploration of his chosen subject. Like many others, me included, he is as fascinated with parts of our world reduced down to these miniature boats, houses and trains. He acknowledges the ways that it reflects something about our society and those people who use it as some form of personal escapism from the pressure of the real world.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    This looks excellent. There’s a guy in Birmingham who makes tiny tiny things – Willard Wigan. Bizarrely, my husband and I went to an exhibition by him in Covent Garden when we were first dating. There’s a great documentary on him where he gets really, really cross when something goes wrong.

    • Paul

      I shall have to have a look out for that. My neighbour is reading it at the moment but I can send it on after he has finished

      • Liz Dexter

        Oh, thank you, that would be very kind! I’m not sure I’ve read anything you would like and haven’t got recently – maybe How to Build a Boat?

        • Paul

          I owe you a book anyway

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