Saturday, June 13, 2009

Semi-Invisible Man: The Life of Norman Lewis by Julian Evans

Semi-invisible because he "was absolutely dead against publicity" - a risky tactic that might have worked for JD Salinger and Thomas Pynchon but sadly backfired for Norman Lewis (1908-2003). Yet Graham Greene once described him as "one of the best writers, not of any particular decade, but of our century". Though he wrote novels, he is best known for his travel books, such as A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Indo-China, Naples '44 and Voices of the Old Sea. In this authorised biography, Julian Evans, Lewis's friend and editor, compares the author's diaries and notebooks with the writing to show how he often embellished the truth - a process of "creative recollection". This is an erudite, slightly self-conscious biography by a man who feels the weight of his responsibilities, so you might want to discover the writer himself before tackling this well-written and exhaustive life. Lewis, a restless, randy character, never lost his contempt for his native Enfield, and brilliantly personified what Baudelaire called la haine du domicile et la passion du voyage.

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