Contact!, By Jan Morris

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The Independent Culture

Contact! is subtitled "A Book of Glimpses", and that describes it very well. Drawing on a lifetime of travelling, Morris offers a series of vignettes, never longer than a page, sometimes only a paragraph or a sentence. One begins, casually, "When I was hanging about an airfield in Patagonia..."

The time-span is from the Second World War to the present day. Some feature famous people – a glimpse of Winston Churchill, or Sherpa Tenzing, or General Montgomery, tea with Gracie Fields in Capri – but most are encounters with ordinary people; shepherds, clerks, ticket collectors, taxi drivers and waiters.

Morris's eye is sharp and many of these pieces have the immediacy of haiku, conjuring up place and mood with a few bright details. Some are funny, some wry, some melancholy, some philosophical; all exhibit an open-minded sympathy with people, coupled with a slightly ironic detachment. The last piece, however, "The Touch of a Hand at Homer", isn't detached at all but a deeply felt, poignant free-verse poem about the death of a child.