“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Time Of Gifts That Keeps On Giving

I watched a BBC 4 documentary on Patrick Leigh Fermor (right) last week, which was terrific stuff, as it covered his writing and personal lives in equal measure. One of the best travel writers of his generation, if not the best, Fermor is best known for the first two parts of a proposed trilogy, A TIME OF GIFTS and BETWEEN THE WOODS AND THE WATER, in which he recounts his experiences of walking from England to the Balkans in the late 1930s. He’s still adamant that the third part of the trilogy is on its way, although the fact that he’s 94 and contemplating a major rewrite on the book does not augur well.
  The documentary, incidentally, didn’t mention his superb books on Greece, MANI: TRAVELS IN THE SOUTHERN PELOPONNESE and ROUMELI: TRAVELS IN NORTHERN GREECE. It did spend some time on his audacious coup during WWII, when Fermor led a commando group that parachuted onto Crete to kidnap the German general in charge of the Cretan occupation. ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT, an account of the raid, was written by Fermor’s second-in-command, Captain Billy Moss, and the story was later made into a movie starring Dirk Bogarde as Fermor.
  Fermor is still revered today in Crete as an honorary Cretan, particularly among the mountainous regions, and accolades don’t come much higher than that.
  Fermor is a writer with rare descriptive powers, so it was nice that the documentary featured old footage of the author reading aloud from his work. But here’s the rub – I’m willing to make an exception for Patrick Leigh Fermor, on the basis that he is an exceptional human being and his writing is strongly autobiographical.
  In general, though, I haven’t the faintest interest in hearing authors real aloud from their books, and especially works of fiction. I just don’t get the appeal. And it’s irrelevant as to whether the authors are great showmen and entertainers (Declan Hughes and John Connolly spring to mind), or whether they’re crap at public speaking (c.f. yours truly). The whole point of writing fiction, after all, is to create a voice, or voices, which the reader then brings to life in his or her own mind. Is it not?
  Right now I’m reading Cormac McCarthy’s CITIES OF THE PLAIN. I’d hate to hear McCarthy read aloud from it and discover that he sounds like Truman Capote. I’d never be able to read his novels again.

13 comments:

adrian mckinty said...

Dec,

Did the Beeb mention where ol Pat Fermor got his title from? A Time of Gifts comes from Carrickfergus's favourite son Louis MacNeice. Its somewhere in his epic poem Autumn Journal.

A...

Declan Burke said...

Can't remember if they did, Adrian - and I think I'd have remembered if they had. If that makes any sense. I like his A Prayer before Birth ... some really scary imagery in there. Cheers, Dec

seanag said...

Thanks for the reminder about Patrick Leigh Fermor. The documentary hasn't made its way across the Atlantic yet, and who knows if it will, but I've heard about Fermor forever, so now maybe I'll bump him up high enough on my 'to be read' list that I actually get to something.

As for the authors reading aloud qualms, well, I think I largely agree. It's strangely apropos, as I did my first public reading of my own work ever last weekend. On the one hand, it makes you feel legitimate somehow, and it is nice to have real literary event--at the Henry Miller Library, no less-- where you get together with your fellow odd ducks, namely fiction writers and poets, and such congress is valuable and possibly even professionally useful. On the other hand, I realized with a shock as I attempted to read it aloud the night before that though I could hear the narrator's voice in my head, I could not actually become that character. I fared a little better in the actual reading, but it was at best an approximation, and this done only by sort of going over the top with it. Anyway, reading is a dramatic art and a separate skill, and some authors are lucky enough to have both gifts, but it really shouldn't be required.

By the way, apropos of my fellow guest poster here, I happen to be reading The Bloomsday Dead right now and am enjoying it immensely, enough so that I went out and bought copies of the earlier Michael Forsythe novels. My one regret is that I will be reading them out of sequence.

adrian mckinty said...

Seenag,

The second book can be read non sequentially. But if you read Bloomsday first there are major spoilers for DIWMB.

Declan,

You like Louis MacNeice as well? As Fermor realized he's absolutely brilliant. Nice of Carrickfergus Council to demolish his house, just as they demolished Jonathan Swift's house. I suppose for the DUP though the only book that matters is the King James Bible.

A....

Declan Burke said...

Seanag - Congrats on your first reading, squire ... You're right that reading is a dramatic art in itself. Maybe the actors' unions should offer knock-down rates to writers to do readings.

Adrian - You think the Carrickfergus Council is bad? Down South we're running a motorway through Tara. Because you can never have enough motorways, can you?

As for Macniece:
"I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me / With strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me / On black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me."

I remember thinking that that was pretty cool when I was doing the Leaving Cert. It's not anywhere as cool when you've had a baby daughter, but.

Cheers, Dec

seanag said...

Thanks for the congrats, Declan. And I'm glad to add MacNiece to my reading list. The quote is great.

And yes, Bloomsday Dead does contain spoilers for those who are foolish enough to read out of sequence. Luckily for me, I'm the kind of person who can watch Mystery on PBS multiple times, because the solution never sticks. All I'll have to do is wait a few months, and I'll remember that I'm supposed to know how it turns out--but I won't.

Declan Burke said...

For my money, Seanag, DIWMB is the most powerful of the trilogy, and I don't think it'll matter what sequence you read it in ... In fact, it might be fascinating to go back and flesh out where Forsythe came from. Cheers, Dec

seanag said...

That's a great way to look at it, Declan. I'll look forward to it!

adrian mckinty said...

Seanag

Off topic (but that's me) my better half went to UCSC for a year and my bro in law lives in SF so I know your stomping ground pretty well. Also did the whole Steinbeck thing when I was a mere strap.

Dec

Also off topic, is there to watch BBCi player outside of the UK? Then we could all watch.

A...

seanag said...

Well, something about the way the last post is set up leaves me a tad unsure whether it was Declan or Adrian whose wife went to UCSC, but either way, what a fantastically small world. Which college was she at up there, if she remembers? I went there awhile before she did I'm sure, but wouldn't be surprised if our paths had crossed, since I've been back in town forever. I also work at Bookshop Santa Cruz, which has at least half Irish roots, and maybe a little more than that, seeing as the owners I started with--their daughter now runs the place-- actually met at a Yeats conference in Ireland, lo, these many years ago...

adrian mckinty said...

Seanag

They have separate colleges at UCSC? Had no clue about that. I'll ask her. She was at UCSC then went up to Reed then UM Sante Fe and finally Marylhurst back in Portland. Couldnt make up her mind poor thing. I've been to SC several times, loved it every time. (Even the time when an earthquake had messed things up.)Love walking through the great jogging trails in the forest. Fantastic. Next time we're in SF I'll be sure to drive down and swing by the shop.

Slainte

a...

seanag said...

Not making up your mind is one of the characteristics of us UCSC partakers, I'm afraid. Santa Cruz is still a great small town, though an expensive one, I'm afraid. Please do drop by the store and say hello whenever you're in Northern California again.

Seana

Marc Wodworth said...

Would anyone be able and willing to send a copy of the Fermor documentary? Burned from a download? It's not available online or on the air in the US and I'm desperate to see it, especially as I'm going to try to find the Von Schey manor in Slovaki, of which Fermor writes in ATOG, when I visit Bratislava in October.