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The Miniature Masterpiece,
This review is from: The Violins of Saint-Jacques: A Tale of the Antilles (Paperback)
When Major Patrick Leigh Fermor DSO, OBE, left the army at the end of the 2ed World War he once again became foot-loose and fancy-free. Not for him a stockbroker's life of keeping up with the Jones's with a two-tone Humber Super Snipe and a mock Tudor residence in Godalming ! We have become the gainers in as much as he decided to explore the Caribbean and because out of it came "The Travellers' Tree" in 1950 and his unique novel, this superb gem, three years later.
Of course we must admit that PLF was an inveterate elitist and romantic royalist to boot and the storyline to this remarkable book must have welled up over a period of time in countless daydreams or from strands of fragments remembered from the night while he was garavanting about in that part of the world. Little by little he assembled his armoury of telling detail - the elaborate dress, the cornucopia of food and drink, the mannerisms, the local French accent - nothing became forgotten. Although the novel is very short it is as though it is stitched in "petit point". But the effect is grandiose.
It is exceptionally cleverly constructed with the narrator in the first person singular exchanging places with Berthe de Rennes whose early-life experience forms the real subject matter of this book. She is relating her story to him informally over several meals at table at her home on a Greek Island half a century on. However, because she had been able to capture the atmosphere of the time and place in sketch books which reinforce her moving story the narrator becomes completely immersed in the drama of the unfolding events and so in parts takes on the telling. In so doing he immerses us, the readers, with him as though we too are witnesses. The plot may not be wholly believeable, but in spite of that I believe this to be great literature.