It is a novel though I thought it was a travel book and indeed it reads very much like one in that it meanders and there is no carefully constructed plot and there is no reason as far as I can tell why she first goes to Istanbul and then to Trabzon which is what the Turks call Trebizond which used to be the final outpost of the Byzantine Empire but is now a little fishing port and the citadel quite overgrown and then she travels deeper into Turkey near the Russian border and two of her companions cross the border ("crash the Curtain") so she is alone and running out of money so she goes down to Jerusalem and meets her mother (this is quite by chance) and then she comes to England once again and lives in London and then Oxford where she teaches a monkey to drive a car and then something awful happens and that is the end.
But the real beauty of the book is the way it is constructed in long, meandering sentences like the one above. She chats of all the things that interest her (Circassian slaves are an obsession). The whole thing is quite off the wall. Much of the travelling is done on camel-back. Aunt Dot is dotty and Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg the highest of High Anglicans. There is a lot of religion in it. The narrator is a lapsed High Anglican ("the Church met its Waterloo ... when I took up with adultery") but she is obsessed by it and perhaps by her guilt at lapsing and her fear of Hell.
In many ways this is a stream of consciousness travel novel. And there are many nuggets of wisdom in her gushing thoughts:
- "I went on musing about why it was thought better and higher to love one's country than one's county, or town, or village, or house. Perhaps because it was larger. But then it would be still better to love one's continent, and best of all to love one's planet."
- "We all have our price ... but we don't all get it."
- Adultery is "a meanness and a stealing, a taking away from someone what should be theirs, a great selfishness, and surrounded and guarded by lies lest it should be found out. And out of this meanness and this selfishness and this lying flow love and joy and peace, beyond anything that can be imagined."
Well I loved it. She rambles on about life and nothing really happens until the end and her sentences and long and her paragraphs longer but then that is the way with paragraphs and somehow you get a picture of beauty and a love of life: "After all, life, for all its agonies of despair and loss and guilt, is exciting and beautiful, amusing and artful and endearing, full of liking and of love, at times a poem and a high adventure, at times nobles and at times very gay; and whatever (if anything) is to come after it, we shall not have this life again."
And you could say the same about this delightful book. October 2013; 222 pages