Bruce Palling

The World, The World

Semi-Invisible Man: The Life of Norman Lewis

By

Jonathan Cape 725pp £25 order from our bookshop

Norman Lewis only just scraped into The Oxford Companion to English Literature in his tenth decade, three years before his death in 2003. Even then, it was the briefest of entries, naming merely two of his travel classics, published nearly half a century earlier. It was as if Britain’s literary establishment didn’t quite see the point of him or even approve of his oeuvre. The title of Julian Evans’s exhaustive and sympathetic biography sums up Norman Lewis’s problem – he never did break out from being an author revered by a discriminating minority to one, like Bruce Chatwin or Paul Theroux, with a wider audience. It was erroneously assumed by many that Lewis was a mere travel writer rather than a master of description and atmosphere. How blinkered they were. The genius of Lewis is in his ability to evoke the surreal nature of many aspects of people’s lives without belittling or patronising them. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'It is one of those nice linguistic ironies that English should have attempted to make sex respectable by clothing… ,
    • 'He was to my mind the father of the idea that journalism – yes, even journalism – can have a moral dimension to it… ,
    • RT : Feeling old, as exhumes a piece I wrote 37 years ago. But a joy to see Kathy O’S there too. Here’s why:… ,
    • 'Enough of his character remains just out of reach for Barnes to relish the challenge of imagining him.' Patrick M… ,
    • RT : I did a thing about the new Penguin Book Of Oulipo for this month’s Literary Review: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Moore’s work has been so influential that the former ministers who provided him with much of his information now r… ,
    • 'Although he travels through time and space to find the best produce, his choices, delightfully, are not obvious.'… ,