Lesley Blanch must be thrilled to read the reviews about her book Far to Go and Many to Love. This is despite the fact that at the age of 103 she left this world to enjoy her travels to the far beyond where hopefully she can continue to enrich her soul with a different adventure worthy of her well – known curiosity.
Coming back to our terrestrial activities, the reviews of her book are overwhelmingly complimentary and uplifting. This time it is Country Life Magazine which sings her praises in a review that so engrossingly faultless and describes her life with a good measure of joyful flow of words.
I need not elaborate further as the following write-up will enlighten the reader more than my own humble interpretation. In the interim, buy this gem of a book and be your own critic.
In her posthumously published memoirs, Lesley Blanch recounts how, while she was living with her parents as a 16-year-old girl in Chiswick, a gypsy woman selling clothes pegs came to the door and, looking at her, predicted that, when she grew up, she would have ‘far to go and many to love’.
Those who have read Blanch’s books, with their vivid descriptions of far-flung places and deeply felt emotional involvements, will recognise how accurate the gypsy’s forecast was. This new collection of her early journalism, biographical essays and travellers’ tales adds a whole new dimension to her adventurous and romantic life.
The first 60 pages are a sensitive account of her life written by her god-daughter, Georgia de Chamberet, who has both edited the passages written by Blanch and set them in the context of her travels and loves. As editor, she doesn’t disguise the fact that the author was an ‘idealist and fantasist’, who practised what has become known as narrative nonfiction; that is, telling a good story without over much attention to the less colourful or inconvenient facts—‘the boundary between dreams and waking worlds is often blurred’.
Blanch married a French diplomat and they were en poste together in, among other places, Bulgaria and Los Angeles. While in the former, she was able to indulge her fascination with all things Slav; in the latter, she became a self-styled queen of Tinseltown, entertaining and being entertained by the stars of Hollywood. However, even this fell short of her aspirations; she was a rebellious diplomatic wife, always straying off for her own explorations and adventures.
Among the places that attracted her and about which she writes are the Sahara, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Afghanistan. Not for her the world of ‘young Englishwomen spoiling their lives tapping away at typewriters… and trudging home over Waterloo Bridge’; hers were wider horizons.
However, although she was always seeking out remote places, Blanch also liked to be the centre of attention wherever she was. She cultivated the friendship of such diverse characters as Peter Ustinov, the Oliviers, Nancy Mitford and Cecil Beaton, but, like all good travellers, she also cultivated the ordinary people she met. As a result, she found in Arabia that there were ‘rather too many kind, but misleading, strangers who always used to tell me trains or buses left at whatever time they imagined I should have liked them to leave, which alas, seldom corresponded with fact’.
Blanch may be best remembered for The Wilder Shores of Love, but as she explores the souks and bazaars of Central Asia in this eccentric and fascinating book, she also discovers ‘the wilder shores of shopping’. She is as good company on the page as she must have been in the alleyways of Bukhara.