Up to about five years ago I lived my life in ignorance of James Salter. If someone had mentioned his name to be I would have probably imagined him to be some kind of old-fashioned tradesman, ‘Salter and Sons. Purveyors of finest quality meats’
Now my life has been immeasurably enriched by the discovery that he is in fact a distinguished man of letters.
He’s what they call ‘a writer’s writer’ which translates as ‘He doesn’t sell many books’
Why is a mystery to me, as at least two of them are about subjects that are the stuff films are made of.
‘The Hunters’ is about the exploits of a fighter pilot in the Korean War, while ‘Solo Faces’ is about the joys and dangers of mountain climbing.
It comes as no surprise to learn that these two books aren’t just written from his imagination, as Salter was both an ace fighter pilot and an expert climber.
This Hemingway-esque man of action also shared Papa’s love of women and his life seems to be lettered with affairs and relationships if his books ‘A Sport and a Pastime ‘and his new novel ‘All that is’ are anything to go by.
However, Salter differs from Hemingway in one respect. His distinctive style though simple, is more low-key and subtle. This is not the work of a self-publicist.
Everything that happens in his books is laid out before you with minimum of fuss but still is evocative and full of feeling. This is not a mode of writing that merely states the fact; it also expresses the mood beautifully.
I haven’t even mentioned his fabulous autobiography ‘Burning the Days’ or the book many perceive as his best ‘Light Years’ but hopefully these words will be enough to persuade someone to check out Salter. He’s now a very old man and it seems unlikely we’re going to have too many books from him but the ones we have should be treasured, revered and read by you.