I groped for lights, got into a dressing-gown, and let fly a few whispered maledictions aimed at the head of Bacchus. But what I saw before me, when I opened the door, was no reeling Blix, nor even a swaying one. I have seldom seen a man so sober. He was grim, he was pale, he was Death warmed over. He shook like a harpstring.
He said: “Beryl, I hated to do it, but I had to wake you. The head rolled eight feet from the body.”
There are various techniques for coping with people who say things like that. Possibly the most effective is to catch them just under the ear with a bronze book-end (preferably a cast of Rodin´s “Thinker”) and then scream – remembering always that the scream is secondary to the book-end.
West with the Night are Beryl Markham´s memoirs about her childhood in British East Africa up to the point of her solo flight across the Atlantic and as you might tell from the excerpt above, she sure knows how to write. Markham´s writing is stunning and beautiful and whether she described one of her flights across the African wilderness or a horse race, I felt like I was right there with her.
However, I had some problems with this memoir. The main one being that Markham doesn´t disclose a lot of personal feelings and thoughts. The whole book comprises of personal anecdotes about dogs, horse-breeding, hunting with the natives and of course flying, but most of the time she doesn´t tell the reader very much about her personal life and to be honest, I haven´t been particularly interested in the things she has experienced as a child.
Take the chapters about Bror von Blixen-Finecken. He and Beryl are working together and all of a sudden Beryl wants to go back to England. And Bror simply says okay. And then he goes with her. Not a single explanation why he is going with her, not a single word from Markham that these two might be more than colleagues (which I guess he is).
In the end, I didn´t get a feeling for this woman, simply because she kept me as a reader constantly at a distance.
I´m not well versed reading memoirs, so I might miss something in this one. I´m glad that I have read West with the Night, though, because it is well worth reading for the writing alone.