Flinty, mesmerising


The late Peter Matthiessen – writer (of the epic novel Shadow Country amongst other things), activist and, bizarrely, onetime CIA agent – has a new (final) novel out, which prompted me to go back to his classic book The Snow Leopard – his account of a Himalayan trek in search of the little-seen animal. Pico Iyer introduces the Penguin classics edition (his writing is of a fittingly high standard) and he makes mention of Matthiessen’s sharp, unflinching observation and his honesty. Part of the book’s strength is that Matthiessen’s clear-sightedness goes beyond simply describing his natural surroundings. As Iyer points out, Matthiessen’s mind wanders widely, care of his wide reading, and the majestic and often downright scary surroundings seem to inspire a corresponding depth in his writing, which though flinty and honed is also mesmerising, soul-filling and awe-inspiring.

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