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Current Reading: The Traveller's Tree: Patrick Leigh Fermor

Patrick Leigh FermorPatrick Leigh Fermor

There is a running allegation that Patrick Leigh Fermor was not only the single greatest travel writer of the 20th century ( a time when you could really travel), but also one of the great prose stylist of the English language. Those two things, travel and writing in English, are certainly not what they used to be. Let my long trial of blog typos stand as testimony.

There is a lot of over-trafficked worlds in both these areas and precious little unspoiled territory for a lover of both these modes to mine. That sense of virgin worlds, in Fermor's case, the long wide arc of the Carribean basin that he explored in the late forties and then published a book about in 1950, can never be seen in the same way again. Traveller's Tree takes a languid and idiosyncratic cruise (literally) through all these former English, Spanish, French and Dutch colonies. Some are big (Cuba), some are small (Martinique). All are unique in a way that leads to a gleeful exploration of the vagaries different languages, cultures and histories provoked in a fairly uniform geological chain of islands.

In addition to the travelogue, which I should warn a modern reader is quite personal and true to its English Imperial times and tone, there is the question of Fermor's deployment of the English language. A military metaphor is apt. The moralistic, all examining, damn near neurotic voice of the high Anglo-Saxon is unleashed to maximalist effect, swarming over ever last fleck of flora and fauna, edifices and human forms that happens across Fermor's path. He covers the territory with an intensity that spins out to prose poetry at its highest. The hype was real. This man made consciousness totally lingual and language a pure consciousness. It must be read!

Taste is a dictatorship.

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