Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Wanderlust and wonder lost

I don't know where I heard of Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts, the New Yorker or the New York Time or somesuch, at any rate I'm sure it had New York in the title. In it, the author recounts his 1933 journey on foot (with help from boats) from jolly old England where he had been booted from school across good old Mitteleuropa. The review must have pretty well glowed, cuz I put it on my wishlist and was psyched to get it. The book's introduction is written by a big fan, who coos about Leigh Fermor's well-etched style. Indeed.

The book suffers from a surfeit of style. Much as I wanted to love this freebootin young rapscallion, I found myself deeply frustrated by his need to continually play tricks with point of view (I was drunk so it's all in an art-schoool haze) and to lard on the writerly, without really telling us much (the people were so simple, so pure, so nice. I was cold so the food and beds were welcome).

It all seemed deucedly familiar. Where had I seen this before? A Brit going on foot through snow and recounting adventures? Why, how about Rory Stewart's recently lauded The Places in Between, about trekking across Afghanistan. Also self-absorbed and dead boring. Read 70 pages maybe before setting it out to gather dust.

I think, maybe, the moral for me is that sending some introspective young UKer off on a journey on foot into snow and dirt is probably not going to make for a good read, however much fun it sounds like.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, there is a whole genre of traveling Englishmen; the gold standard to which they all rightly aspire is of course Robert Byron's Road to Oxiana. But I totally agree - the New Yorker version of Fermor's life is much better than the book, which I, too, promptly bought and then set aside. Rory Stewart is another matter. I also found the book shallow (one day in one place, next day move on) but it also has a hateful aspect as well. If your copy is still around your house gathering dust go find the footnote about two thirds of the way through that extols the virtues of the British colonial administrator as a model for international development today. Intrigued, awfully, by all of this, I did go meet the author in Kabul once and it was all confirmed in person, sadly. But if you are in search of a comic antidote to this genre I highly recommend the early TC Boyle novel, still one of his best, called Water Music. Run get it, man, you'll lol.