When We Flew Planes Across The Atlantic, And Also Battled Lions In British East Africa

In the era of White Privilege it feels sort of weird and wrong to read Beryl Markham's West With the Night, except that between the lion wrassling, thoroughbred traning, and death-defying trans-Atlantic flying you easily get sucked into the mystique and aura of this fuckin' boss lady. Clearly, you could feel completely free to disregard the adventures of a special snowflake in British East Africa, but you'd miss out on a lot of really fuckin' boss badass stories. Also, if it makes you feel any better, she never left Kenya, and in fact died there in the 1980s.

There are, in my mind, a few legitimately weird aspects to West. One, where are the parents? In the early parts of the book, she is hunting big game on her own. Forget helicopter parents, even the most free range or just negligent parent would protect their child against elephants or whatnot. On the other hand, it's sort of an object lesson: if you want your child to set aviation records and tame lions, neglect them.

Then there's the sex, or lack thereof. Maybe we'd love to assume that adventuresome individuals are monomaniacal eunuchs, but that's frankly ridiculous, and only more so when you observe the habits of A-listers: these people bang. If you're flying planes in the bush, people will want to bang you. If you're training racehorses, people will want to bang you. If you're crash landing into Nova Scotia, people will want to bang you. The lack of sex or relationships or anything at all in West is ridiculous, or at the very least noticeable. I can respect that people in a certain day and age didn't talk about stuff, but as a modern reader, it's weird. And if you read her Wikipedia page, it is certainly an omission: this lady had relationships with dukes, airplane pilots and even humped the Little Prince dude.

A word about the dubious provenance of the writing: I don't know if I give a fuck whether she "wrote" "every" "word" "of" "the" "book." And I understand that this is a leap of faith, or at least amounts to taking a definite side between "it's great, brilliant" and "it's full of shit and fraudulent." I was going to say something along the lines of, "The fact that Wilt Chamberlain used a ghost writer doesn't negate the 20,000 women he bedded" except that apparently he didn't use a ghost writer or a co-writer or anything of the sort. But you get my point. As for what I think after having read it, this kind of sealed it for me.

All that aside, look, the writing in West is great: taut, clean, crisp in a way that lets the yarns speak for themselves. I can't believe her voice isn't in there somewhere. And it's especially crazy in this time, where authorship is as ephemeral as a Drake-Meek Mill feud, that people are fucked up about it. That said, I so badly wanted her to have hunkered down over a Remington and pecked away at this bit of brilliance. Even so, she still a) battled lions, b) trained racehorses, c) flew across the Atlantic, and d) whatever else she did that was awesome; wanting her to be articulate to the point of lyrical about the whole thing is asking a lot. Also, using "inauthentic" as a criticism is too easy and too cheap; boss people don't need to write their own stories because writing your own story is lame and beneath totally awesome people (Wilt Chamberlain aside).

Posted: August 31st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Books Are The SUVs Of Writing | Tags: , , ,