Friday, July 01, 2011

Lost in a Good Book

Recently I had a few days of feeling under the weather and couldn't face anything too demanding to read - especially after reading Thomas Mann's FELIX KRULL: CONFESSIONS OF A CONFIDENCE MAN for my reading group - so turned to some old favourites. For me comfort reading is of two main types: breathless thrillers and crime novels which pin you to your seat - or books as familiar and reassuring as an old woolly. In the latter group I especially like books with an autobiographical element which allow you to immerse yourself in someone else's life and forget your own for a while. I've mentioned Joyce Dennys's wonderful books in an earlier blog and in the same category are John. P. Harris's two slim paperbacks, AN ENGLISHMAN IN THE MIDI and MORE FROM AN ENGLISHMAN IN THE MIDI published in the early 1990s. The contents of these books started life as short programmes on Radio 4 and as pieces of journalism, but I first came across him when I found his books on my mother-in-law's shelves. The writer taught French and he and his wife moved for good to the Midi in the mid seventies. He writes with charm and wit and good hmour about their life there, first in a very small village and then in a small town. As I reread them this time I found myself wondering if he was still there. From internal evidence I worked out that he had been born in 1923, so he'd be eighty-eight. It was possible . . . and I remembered reading an Amazon review by a reader who had visited him in 2000. In the end I succumbed to temptation and googled him and, do you know, I rather wish I hadn't. An obituary that told me he had died in 2003 and his wife the year before. I'd rather go on thinking of him sitting on a terrace somewhere in the Languedoc, glass of white wine before him and a copy of LE MONDE on his knee and that's just what I'll do.

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