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

    • One woman 'travelled round the south of India with a retinue of 750 people, fourteen elephants, two racing camels f… ,
    • Stuck for a gift idea for Father's Day? Subscribe to Literary Review and get a FREE copy of 'An Impeccable Spy' –… ,
    • 'Gone. All gone. The ease, the pleasure, the effortless eloquence' From May 1995, Margaret Forster's withering rev… ,
    • RT : SO excited to tell you about this event! 😆 The amazing digital colourist, will be joining w… ,
    • 'Peters was unashamed and evidently unshamable, an impostor who wholly inhabited his fabrications and who indignant… ,
    • ‘At every waking moment Barbara Hepworth was aware of herself as a woman paving the way in a man’s world’ From the… ,
    • The entertaining Howard Jacobson is in conversation with Prof John Mullan at the Queen’s Park Book Festival on Sund… ,