Originally written for the Charterhouse blog.
A Dragon Apparent and Golden Earth established Norman Lewis as a writer of uncommonly well-written prose, who, as Cyril Connolly noted, had a remarkable gift for making even a lorry seem interesting. Both books, published in impressively short succession, were lavished with superlatives from the critics of the time. Yet neither sold especially well, and Lewis’s next few travel books followed with surprising infrequency. He completed one more in the 1950s (a collection of essays), then just two others throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, when much of his creative energy was invested in the writing of his far more lucrative novels.
For many of its practitioners, travel writing is entirely a romantic venture by which the writer imagines himself as the hero of his own account, tramping his way through uncharted sands like Lawrence of Arabia. A more modest writer might see things less conceitedly and make himself the fool instead; but surely only a truly self-effacing one could resist the temptation of making himself the central character in his own travel book.