“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “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.

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.