Patrick Leigh Fermor, But Occult

“A few days after he had sent the Cuxa postcard, he read her some chapters from the autobiography of Michael Ashman, a minor travel writer who had walked across Europe in the late thirties…”

The above passage comes up in the first third of M. John Harrison’s 1992 novel The Course of the Heart. I read it for the first time in 2010 (or so Goodreads tells me) and it left little to no impression on me. After reading a bunch of Harrison’s work for a Literary Hub article, I returned to it and found myself devastated by the book.

One of the running motifs in the novel is Ashman, whose life is neatly rendered by Harrison, to the extent that I had to search for his name to confirm that he was, in fact, fictional. (Though, as the title of this post makes clear, he does seem to be something of a riff on Patrick Leigh Fermor.)

Amusingly, what did turn up when I went looking for Ashman online were a number of entries on the blog of Gary Budden, who’s become one of my favorite contemporary writers in recent years. (And whose writing on the concept of landscape punk continues to influence my fiction.)

At one point, Budden refers to Ashman as the “creator of a series of post-WW2 occult detective novels, following the exploits of a man named Vincent Harrier.” And I love the weird synchronicity of this – of the idea of Ashman as this thread that links together writers doing fascinating, impossible-to-classify work. Alternately: a moment of weird delight.

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