Lucy Popescu

freedom to write, review, travel…

Book Review – Crossings

Posted by lucypopescu on November 26, 2016

 

CrossingsNick Murray’s impressive collection of essays is part travelogue and part meditation on other, metaphysical borders he has experienced. Murray has traversed various continents, countries and counties. Borders, he muses early on, “are not attractive places. They want to instruct you, as forcefully as they can, about their importance, about what they signify, so everything about them is designed to underscore that meaning…” On crossing the frontier from North Africa to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, he notes how roughly the Spanish policemen treat the Moroccans: “I have seen farmers deal this way with recalcitrant sheep.” In ‘The Toxicity of Borders’, he argues against Europe’s current “war” with migration, pointing out how the movement of people “enriches the collective experience, it is a prophylactic against insularity, complacency ignorance.”

Observing with humour some of the class boundaries that remain entrenched in Britain today, Murray recalls a talk he gave at Eton and how he made the unforgivable faux pas of asking for a speaker’s fee: “In this place, where only the sons of Croesus can afford to lodge, payment is plainly unheard of and to request it an awful solecism.”

In ‘The Last Frontier’, Murray poignantly describes the limbo between life and death endured by an unnamed elderly patient in a care home: “cut off from our world, unable to speak or acknowledge her children and friends, in the fathomless, silent place granted to her by a paralyzing body dementia…Silently I ask myself: will no one come to lift the barrier and let her through?”

Murray combines philosophical reflections, the musings of other writers – from Voltaire to Bruce Chatwin – and personal vignettes to terrific effect. In the shorter, second section of Crossings, Murray looks back at the twenty-five years he has lived in the Welsh Marches and reflects on the history of its border with England. In contrast to the negative feelings for border posts in his opening pages, he concludes that he is “divided, not an easy belonger, preferring the fugitive margins of border country to the confident claim to a single, definite patch of turf in the centre of things.”

Originally published in The Tablet

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