THE SPIRIT OF MEDITERRANEAN PLACES by Michel Butor

THE SPIRIT OF MEDITERRANEAN PLACES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A collection of dense, dreamy travel essays, first published in France in 1958, by an acclaimed poet, critic, and proponent of the ""new novel."" Butor's travelogues, like his novels, excel in exact descriptions of physical states. Here, landscapes are often reduced to geometric patterns; Cordova is remembered for ""the cleanliness of the sun and the coolness of the precise shadows it cast, triangles or trapezoids changing proportions according to the day and the hour."" Other places whose patterns Butor traces include Istanbul (an ""Oriental Liverpool""), Salonica, Mantua, Ferrara, and Minya in Middle Egypt, where he passed eight months as a French language instructor. Sometimes the descriptions are impossibly gaseous or vague; of Istanbul, Butor claims in a typical French hyperintellectual inflation that ""this city was at the origin of everything, it has left its mark on everything."" On the other hand, when he grounds himself in humble memories--for instance of the New Year's Eve he was stuck in a small village in Crete without a bed, and suddenly ""everything began to be quite wonderful""--Butor can be amusing, vivid, and quick to capture the essence of an alien land. The final and longest essay, on Egypt, is especially lovely, with its description of fields ""like aquariums filled with liquid wheat."" Certainly not the book to pack as a nitty-gritty sightseeing guide, but here and there, in prose that is always beautiful if not always lucid, this does fulfill its promise to convey the ""spirit"" of Mediterranean lands.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1986
Publisher: Marlboro