Book Reading & Armchair Critics
AUGUST MEETING 2022
It was good to be back together after the cancellation of July’s meeting. Our shared read was ‘Lost Horizon’ by James Hilton. Yes, the same guy from Leigh who wrote ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips’. We had received some questions to help us get the discussion under way and they were a useful reminder of what the book was about!
Overall. It was felt that it is a book of its time and was a bit of a slog to read, not due to its length but more to do with its style, language, and politically incorrect phrases. However, we did agree that it was food for thought when looking at ideas about life and the way society is ordered. The title is well chosen as it was written not long after World War I when the world had lost its way, the Crash had happened, and Nazism was on the rise. Geographical, metaphysical, personal, and political horizons are explored in the book alongside the ideas about how people often look to the horizon to feel grounded and have a sense of place. It is written from a third-party point of view and so it is not possible to get into the main character’s head, but this is clever as it makes the book seem like a narrator is revealing it to you personally. Yet having a narrator causes a problem as we are left wondering how much was meant by Conway himself and how much did Rutherford, the narrator, write in his own take of the events.
The book was highly acclaimed when published, probably due to its unusual nature. Is the book a fantasy of the world Conway would have liked to have lived in? Did he have PTSD after World War I? The novel hints at how those of Conway’s class lived in a privileged world and were not in touch with reality and Conway offers the reader the new reality of Shangri La, with its books, music no violence, no crime, a cultured and civilized way of life but not one class structures. The ideal community is held up as a marker to the real world and its patriotic idealism. Hilton was challenging the superiority of Britain, making his writing brave. Life at the Lamasery seemed perfect for Conway or was it just illusion brought on by injuries sustained in the plane crash or even due to a lack of oxygen?
Conway had led men in World War I, he was seen as being a bit of a hero, even though he would hate that as he was a man prone to inaction but one who rises to the occasion when needed. Mallinson, his junior work colleague is confused and afraid and wanting to leave the newfound community and he sees Conway as the man to lead them home. Of those stranded by the plane crash, Mallinson is the only one who has a sense of danger and his urgent need to leave is a source of annoyance to the others in the group. Miss Brinklow, a missionary takes things in her stride, she is a romantic at some level, but not a delicate wallflower and sees her continued stay as an opportunity to evangelise the community. The American, Barnard is on the run and sees his chance at staying a free man. He sees there are business opportunities for him, where he can use his skills. Both characters are set on making the most of where they are. Then we add in Chang, the high lama, is frustrating as he will not give straight answers to questions, but it seems that Conway is attracted by this enigmatic leader.
The chance of escape is dwindling and during this time, Conway learns from Chang that he has been chosen to be the next high lama. Conway is delighted by this at first and does not tell the others, but he does try to make them see the sense of staying. It is likely that they were all drugged and brainwashed, making the story a bit creepy! However, it is likely that he had doubts as was not sure about wanting to live for a long time as the benefits might not be enough. He does not want people to map out his life and in the end his lack of ambition and desire for status allow him to leave. He has never asked for leadership; it has been given to him and leading the lamasery would destroy his paradise. He does not want to live ‘forever’ as he feels there is no point. He begins to see that this place is not utopia. They cannot come and go and seem to have no connection with those who live in the valleys below. There is a certain cruelty in the community as those who do not fit in are sent away and will die as they age on leaving Shangri La or from the cold and lack of oxygen. It is Mallinson’s need to leave, taking with him a young Chinese woman, that sets Conway on the path of escape. Both Conway and Mallinson had fallen in love with her, what she represented and could provide for them. Were they thinking only of themselves as leaving would age her? The narrator leaves a lot to be assumed by the reader.
Hilton was a forward thinker, a man of ideas and reflection. The novel allows us to look at themes such as racism, ageism, and the human need to halt the ageing process and the desire to explore time and space. Is Shangri La a place or a state of mInd?
Other books read this month
TITLE AUTHOR GENRE
Away with the Penguins Hazel Prior Contemporary Fiction/Feel Good
Home Stretch Graham Norton Contemporary/LGBTQI Fiction
Hamnet Maggie O’Farrell Historical Fiction
The Invisible Man H. G. Wells Classic/Science Fiction
The Island of Missing Trees Elif Shafak Contemporary/Literary Fiction
The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes Contemporary Fiction
Elizabeth Finch Julian Barnes Literary Fiction
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Non-fiction/Science/Philosophy
Everyone Brave is Forgiven Chris Cleave Literary/Historical Fiction
Pandora’s Jar Natalie Haynes Non-Fiction/History/Myth
Vox Christina Dalcher Dystopian Fiction
Matrix Lauren Groff Historical Fiction
A Room Made of Leaves Kate Grenville Historical Fiction
The Mad Women’s Ball Victoria Mas Historical Fiction
Silver Sparrow Tayari Jones Contemporary Fiction
A Little London Scandal Miranda Emmerson Historical/LGBTQI Fiction
Please note that there is change to August’s book. We are reading Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan.