Saturday, May 4, 2013

Lawrence Durrell: Travel Writer Extraordinaire

I've been reading from The Lawrence Durrell Travel Reader, edited by Clint Willis. The book contains selections from several of Durrell's travel books. Durrell lived quite a while in the Greek islands just before and long after World War II. And he wrote about his experiences.

Besides being interesting stories in their own right, it's Durrell's power of description that amazes. He is one hell of a writer. I'm sharing with you a few of his magnificent descriptions. This is writing at its best.

This first quote is perhaps Durrell's philosophy of travel writing.

"It is here [in the landscape of a place] that the travel-writer stakes his claim, for writers each seem to have a personal landscape of the heart which beckons them."

The author is in a ship in a storm:

"Throttled down as far as she would go the HDML skidded along the surface of the sea with the waves breaking over her in a series of stabbing white concussions. We braced our feet firmly and listened to the dull whacking of the hull against the water, and the dismal sound of crockery being smashed in the galley. From this time forward we lived on all-fours, crouching like apes whenever we wished to move about the ship."


"The dawn came up as thick as glue; westward the sky had taken on the colour of oiled steel. The storm had passed over us, leaving behind it only a heavy sea propped up in an endless succession of watery slabs."

Here is a description of Kalymnos:

"Never has one seen anything like it--the harbour revolving slowly round one as one comes in. Plane after stiff cubistic plane of pure colour. The mind runs up and down the web of vocabulary looking for a word which will do justice to it. In vain."

Here is a description of Leros:

"The harbour is choked with sunk craft, and the little town has been very badly bombed. A miasmic gloom hangs over everything. God help those born here, one mutters, those who live here, and those who come here to die."

And Leros again:

"The evening comes down, smudged with rain, from a sky of dirty wool. We stand at the great bay window and watch the skirls and eddies roar into the landlocked harbour and dance like maniacs in the riggings of the caieques."

Finally, perhaps ironically, he writes about his years in Corcyra:

"How can these few hastily written words ever recreate more than a fraction of it?"

Yet that's what travel writers do, try to express the totality of their experience in a few words. Durrell comes close to doing so.


Julia Hones said...

It is a pleasure to read some of these descriptions. Thanks for sharing them.

Kamille Elahi said...

Travel writers are very good at description!

These passages are beautifully written!

David P. King said...

Traveling writing ... hadn't thought of that before. Maybe I should keep a travel writing journal for all these road trips I do? :)

Tanya Reimer said...

Reading these would really help with scene descps in my novels. Thanks.