Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 5, 2012

Sensational Snippets: The Far Road by George Johnson

I am reading a very old, very battered library copy of The Far Road by George Johnson (1912-1970), and time and again I find myself stopping to admire the mastery of this man’s pen.

It is 1944, during the Sino-Japanese war.  Two war correspondents, David Meredith and Bruce Conover have come upon the deserted city of Kweilin.  In the ominous silence, the differences between the older man and the younger begin to be revealed:

Meredith’s attitude was that one who has entered a stranger’s house only to discover there is a dead person in one of the rooms behind a closed door.  His instinct was to talk in a whisper or to keep silent, to move about on tiptoe, to get out of it and away as soon as possible.  He was afraid of things unseen and unheard.  He approached each lane and cross-road with his heart thudding.  At every blank corner he waited breathlessly for something to appear.  He was aware of nightmarish elements in the interminably repeated recession of empty streets dwindling away down vacant perspectives, grey and neutral and infinitely melancholy, without the swim and colour of humanity’s movement, in the dust blown silently against posts and doorways, in littered thresholds, in untended things flapping and scratching, in the pervading atmosphere of absence and neglect.  He looked for birds in the air above, hoped for some animal to come creeping out of an alley or a drain – illogically he prayed that it should be an animal or a bird, not a human being – and when this produced no sign of any life he sought in the sky the dingy smoke stain which they had seen from the foothills.  He could no longer see it, or perhaps the stain was what he did see, looking up, because all the air seemed soiled and yellowish, encasing the silence and the emptiness, pressing down on them. 

‘No sign of any fighting,’ said Conover. ‘Nothing at all.  That’s what beats me.’

Meredith shook his head and said nothing.  Signs of burning, of panic, of looting, that was all.

From The Far Road by George Johnson, Fontana Books, 1987, p29)

You can tell from the way this was written that this scene comes from Johnson’s own experience, and that in 1962 when he wrote this novel, it haunted him still.

I have ordered a first edition of this wonderful book from AbeBooks and hope to have the original cover image by the time I write my review…


Responses

  1. looking forward to the full review

    Like

  2. I remember reading this in my early 20s, along with Cartload of Clay, and not liking it much — I think I expected it to be very similar to My Brother Jack (my favourite book of all time) — but maybe I was too young to appreciate it. Will look forward to your full review.

    Like

    • I think there’s something in what you say, Kim…I’m more than half way through now, and nothing much has actually happened. It’s an introspective kind of book, and it raises interesting issues for discussion, but it doesn’t have much of a plot. Well, not so far, though the tension does seem to be rising…

      Like


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