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Excerpt: The Picture of Dorian Gray

It is not easy to find good travel writing – most of the time, they read like an itinerary of “I did this, and then that, and that” and you are left wondering whether you picked up a brochure rather than a travelogue. Sometimes, the writers go overboard and describe each little stone on the pavement and you feel the same impatience as when your car has a breakdown and you are waiting for the AA folks.

Even while I complain as a reader, I know as a writer, that it is hard to strike the right balance. But once in a while, a writer just gives you the perfect description – enough to make you feel as if you are standing right there with him, yet leaves out enough so that you can add your own flavour to the journey. And then you have to just read it over and over again, lapping up the beauty of the unique path they are leading us on.

I leave you with such a description of London’s Covent Garden from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, observed from Dorian’s perspective as he walks listlessly after being disappointed in his first love:

As the dawn was just breaking he found himself close to Covent Garden. The darkness lifted, and, flushed with faint fires, the sky hollowed itself into a perfect pearl. Huge carts filled with nodding lilies rumbled slowly down the polished empty street. The air was heavy with the perfume of the flowers, and their beauty seemed to bring him an anodyne for his pain.

He followed into the market, and watched the men unloading their waggons. A white-smocked carter offered him some cherries. He thanked him, and wondered why he refused to accept any money for them, and began to eat them listlessly. They had been plucked at midnight, and the coldness of the moon had entered into them. A long line of boys carrying crates of striped tulips, and of yellow and red roses, defiled in front of him, threading their way through the huge jade-green piles of vegetables.

Under the portico, with its grey sun-bleached pillars, loitered a troop of draggled bareheaded girls, waiting for the auction to be over. Others crowded round the swinging doors of the coffee-house in the Piazza. The heavy cart-horses slipped and stamped upon the rough stones, shaking their bells and trappings. Some of the drivers were lying asleep on a pile of sacks. Iris-necked, and pink-footed, the pigeons ran about picking up seeds

Are there any good travel books or blogs you recommend?

Posted in Books, Writing on May 26, 2010

3 Responses

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  1. Sherene says

    Lovely, makes me want to visit Covent Garden at dawn, to see what picture it paints today :)

  2. Divya says

    Wow, it does make me want to visit Covent Garden too!

    I do recall enjoying Vikram Seth’s From Heavenly Lake, and William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain. And I vaguely remember liking the melancholy of the descriptions of Somerset Maugham’s short stories set in the SE Asia. Even though it is not “travel writing”, R K Narayan’s descriptions of Madras/Bangalore make me nostalgic!

  3. J. says

    “Head over heel – seduced by southern Italy” by Chris Harrison. It’s great! You could also try “Hokkaido Highway Blues” by Will Ferguson :).

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