Review: Britain’s X-traordinary Files by David Clarke

It’s hard to rate Britain’s X-traordinary Files poorly based on execution. The book is well edited, thoroughly referenced, and easily readable. It’s also, frankly, a bit dull. With a title clearly playing on the intrigue of the hit X-Files science fiction series, one might be forgiven for expecting an exciting revelation or two hidden somewhere in the mix. The driving force behind research into, and entertainment based on, government secrecy is all about the prospect of uncovering the mythical smoking gun; the proof that the government knows the “truth” behind extraterrestrials, Loch Ness, and many other of the world’s curiosities. It’s the foundation of countless books, websites, and documentaries, as well as conspiracy theories and works of fiction.

In the context of this book, “X-traordinary” may translate more accurately as “something a bit unusual”… and being a little off-kilter doesn’t necessarily equate to being new and interesting. The concluding chapter on the Loch Ness monster is a prime example. Nessie is arguably Great Britain’s most widely known and beloved mystery, and most people know at least a little something about the case. It’s been around for decades now, and is well ingrained in popular culture. So what does the British government think of the situation? To sum up: a few believers who find it compelling, a bunch of non-believers who don’t, and the general consensus that even if it probably doesn’t exist, it’s great for tourism, so why mess with it? In other words, exactly what most people probably would have assumed, without twenty-odd pages of evidence extracted from notes, letters, and official documents.

Cutting a bit deeper, one may ask why we bother reading up on these fortean topics at all? For some of us at least, the answer is that a good mystery is exciting. It’s knowing that even if the monster isn’t real, a mystery persists in how so many people can experience it. It’s the love of a good ghost story if nothing else. But the X-traordinary Files isn’t necessarily a book about the mysteries themselves. It’s a book about how governmental entities saw and responded to these events. The author isn’t presenting and analyzing Nessie so much as he’s presenting and analyzing the records of people who were in power at the time. It’s a discussion of people discussing a mystery. Which more often than not, boils down to being just that much less thrilling than addressing the topic head-on. There are no shocking revelations; in fact there doesn’t even seem to be much new material at all. In most instances the official documents do little more than reiterate and corroborate what was already the official story, which I expect most of the general public already knows.

Author David Clarke addresses a variety of subjects, including ghosts, angels, psychic powers, phantom helicopters, and more. Even the Bermuda Triangle makes an appearance, despite being nowhere near Great Britain. There doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to how the material was selected, and the level of detail given any one item is rarely more than what you would expect from a cable TV special on the same. Again, the focus here being more the official documents on the subjects than the subjects themselves.

Rating this book fairly has proven a challenge. In truth, I think the author executed the material well, it’s just that the content is not, to my mind, nearly as interesting as the book jacket would have you believe. There is almost no new or revelatory information; just confirmation of what was already publicly known, or at least suspected. And so, I’m not sure what audience I would recommend it for: A beginner would be better served by a book that approaches the subject matter more directly, while paranormal veterans may prefer something with more focus or fresher content.

Rating: 3/5

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