Van has finished reading…Lost Horizon by James Hilton

17 Aug

The Curtis Brown Book Group sent me a lovely new copy of Lost Horizon as part of a welcome back package at the start of the second Book Group term. In fact I’ve had a copy of this waiting for me on the window sill at work that I never seemed to get around to (although this one has a nicer cover!).

The story is revealed in a format that you don’t see so much these days: Acquaintances coming together and discussing old times; a chance comment and a connection made; adjourn to an hotel/drawing room/parlour, wherein the bones of the main story are revealed. I suspect it may be frowned upon now as somewhat clichéd, though it’s interesting just how effective it is at giving the reader all the preparatory insights needed: how x feels about y; what z has managed to achieve since the last coming together; what sort of a person the hero was when they were younger.

And of course it helps if one among the group is a writer and so able to piece the whole strange debacle into something readable.

Okay, I’m being a little disingenuous there, because what you get between the covers is a fantastic story in more than one sense of the word. It’s hard to imagine how far-reaching a story it was when first published, until you realise that while most people might not recognise the title, they will certainly be familiar with the concept of Shangri-La. It’s an idea that haunts us as a species, the thought that somewhere out there is a hidden vale of perfection wherein we could eschew the world entire and all its – and our own – problems. The East was far more mysterious back when it was written and that mystery drew its fair share of devotees – This book falls between Hesse’s writing of Siddhartha, The Journey To the East and The Glass Bead Game, all of which in their own way vaunt the benefits of the higher mind and the aesthetics of the East. That said, I’ve no idea whether Hilton was a devotee at all – not a small element of Shangri-La’s success, after all, is borne in its ability to be everything – religion included – but in moderation.

Written between world wars and perhaps close enough to the start of the second world war to have been influenced by the earliest political rumblings of what was to come, it’s understandable that a preoccupation with a finer life, with peace and harmony should be so pervasive. Even if it weren’t sparked by the impending cataclysm of the second world war, in terms of the end of the war and what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the book could almost be considered prescient.

There are so many new books these days it’s impossible to be able to keep up with them all. As a blogger the focus tends to be on the new – it’s the next gripping story that people want to be interested in, the next might-just-be-my-favourite-book-ever. It almost felt like a holiday going back to Lost Horizon, returning to something written when the world was not marginally, but radically different. Something that, had it been written now, could well be classed as historical fiction. But I’m loathe to talk of it as an old book. It’s a good book, and isn’t that the great thing about good books? No matter how long ago they were written, good books are never old.

The copy I have was published by Vintage Classics in June 2015 EAN: 9780099595861

You won’t find James Hilton on Twitter (not this one, anyway)

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