Thursday, October 31, 2019

Book 205: Lost Horizon

"It came to him that a dream had dissolved, like all too lovely things, at the first touch of reality; that the whole world's future, weighed in the balance against youth and love, would be light as air."

Dates read: January 29- February 1, 2018

Rating: 5/10

Not too long ago, I went to a show. It was pretty well-attended, and so after a while the internet got super slow. I couldn't check Twitter, or Instagram, or even my email. And it made me realize how short my attention span has well as my tolerance for boredom. Usually I'm the type to always have a book in my bag, but of course I didn't think to have a book when I was going to a show. Seeing how dependent I am on my technology to entertain me was surprising...and also a problem I'm not quite sure how to solve.

And to think even rotary dial phones weren't commonplace 100 years ago. You wanted to get in touch with someone, you wrote a letter. So if someone had gone missing, it might take quite a while to figure out. Of the four people who find themselves skyjacked and crash-landed in the Himalayas in James Hilton's Lost Horizon, there's only one (the youngest, Mallison, an Englishman) who seems all that bothered by the distress his going missing might cause. The other three: Conway, a fellow Englishman and civil servant, Miss Brinklow, an older woman who works as a missionary, and Barnard, a mysterious American businessman, are intrigued by their rescuers, the residents of a lamasery: Shangri-La. The story is actually told around Conway, using the framing device that his story was told to an old acquaintance before he disappeared, which I usually find trite but I think really worked here.

There's not a lot of plot going on in this book: the four passengers are on a plane being evacuated from an Asian city that's experiencing civil conflict when they realize they aren't being taken to the drop point they expect. The plane crashes and the pilot perishes, but they're picked up by a group of Tibetans and taken to their monastery. The area is incredibly remote, nestled within the mountains with only a small native village even remotely close by. The group is at first eager to return to the outside world, but as they grow more and more accustomed to the well-provisioned lamasery and its tranquil residents, it is only Mallison who retains any urgency about trying to leave. Conway, on the other hand, is taken into the confidence of the High Lama and learns the secrets of their way of life.

This book is pretty thin on characterization as well as plot, and I admit I was baffled by its status as a classic until I found out it was apparently one of the very first mass-market paperbacks, which put it in the hands of a much wider audience than many books. Otherwise, it's fine but not special. The prose is good quality. It's one of those books that you have to remind yourself of the publication date for while you read...there is frequent use of racial slurs targeted at Asian people, and of course the "wisdom" that propels Shangri-La and its unusually long-lived residents is revealed to be the product of white people. It was the 1930s and James Hilton was a middle-class white British dude, so that kind of thing isn't exactly unexpected, but I was personally taken aback by the casual racism and expect most other modern readers would be so as well. There's nothing special or particularly interesting in this book, so while I didn't hate it, I don't recommend it.

One year ago, I was reading: Seduction
Two years ago, I was reading: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

Three years ago, I was reading: Confessions of Saint Augustine

Four years ago, I was reading: Primitive Mythology

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