Aug 4, 2011

On Colin Thubron

Christopher Tayler: Colin Thubron: "Some writer-travellers – V.S. Naipaul, for instance – like to project themselves as illusionless figures, immune to prettifying, exoticising urges. Colin Thubron isn’t shy about not liking places: he often endures bouts of melancholy on his journeys and writes about the way ‘a little architectural charm, or a trick of the light, could turn other people’s poverty to a bearable snapshot.’ But an illusionless posture isn’t his style. ‘Like a lot of English travel writers,’ he once said, ‘I began with a romantic idea about travel,’ and the temperament that got him going in the first place – his ‘rather naive love of the exotic and mysterious’, of ‘the strange and the beautiful’ – plays a large role in his depictions of himself on the page."

Thubron is one of my favourite travel writers. He brings a meditative air into his books, like a Zen Buddhist travelling across a strange land, observing and absorbing. He picks odd places to go to - a prison, a school, a mental asylum - to see how this society and its people live. He is the writer I would pick at the beginning of a journey. And perhaps end with someone like Paul Theroux where a long absence from home makes the end of a journey irritable sometimes.

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