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2014-02-16 14:43

In praise of slow reading

1. Slow reading

Patrick Leigh Fermor's A time of gifts isn't your ordinary everyday masterpiece. After a frankly unpromising start in his schooldays, it blossoms into an astonishing prose-poem to compare with Michael Ondaatje's In the skin of a lion or Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan.

And, as Evgeny Morozov is keen to remark, the Internet is an enormous boon to the reader of travelogues, because when Fermor goes off on one about Altdorfer's Alexanderschlacht or the Andreas-Hofer-lied (which now sounds a little too like Monty Python's Lumberjack song for comfort) or Schloss Schnbhel then you can just look up what might otherwise be a gap or lacuna in your appreciation. (We're particularly enjoying the use of our shiny new Android tablet for this kind of work.)

Apart from Fermor's considerable gifts as a stylist, there is the subject matter to which they are applied: a cross-section of a particularly vanished world. that of central Europe in the early 30's, shortly before You-Know-Who kicked off You-Know-What. Fermor is as comfortable sleeping in the castles that his many and proliferating "letters of introduction" open to him as his is dossing in barns or the Salvation Army in Vienna during a brief futile siege by the Social Democrats.

(We're not including any quotes because we'd want to quote it all and that is neither legal nor convenient.)

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