Following a plane crash, the British consul Conway, his deputy, a missionary and an American financier find themselves in the mysterious snow-capped mountains somewhere in Tibet. Instructed by the mortally wounded pilot to find the lamasery of Shangri-La, they are both confused and delighted to be greeted with gracious hospitality there, but find themselves virtually imprisoned in the mystical and beautiful place.
With its luxurious amenities, a vast library and many antique treasures, what is the dark secret at the heart of the apparent utopia of Shangri-La?
You would think I chose to read this book due to the good things people have said about it, you’d be wrong though. I picked Lost Horizon up for an altogether more tenuous reason, that being that Shangri-La is mentioned in passing Star Trek V, that being the film that William Shatner co-wrote, directed and starred in, in which he has a fight with ‘God’. I just wanted to mention that in my review and there really is no better excuse to read a book in my opinion.
Very much a book of its time, there is a strong sense of entitlement in the British imperialism and an on the edge of the empire mentality with all its casual racism, not to mention sexism and misogyny. The group of character also encompasses the usual players of these sorts of books, the brash American, the Unflappable Brit, the prim lady on a mission (being a missionary and all) and the annoying one you just want to slap.
As a group, it is a frictious mix of polar opposites who soon clash over their situation and how best to proceed that gives the book its tension, of which admittedly there isn’t a lot. There is an uneven amount of character development going on which is a shame but what we do get is enough of a vehicle to help drive the plot along and allows the reader to explore the choices the characters make based on their experiences and outlook on life. There is plenty of scope also to put ourselves into their situation and muse on what we would do in such a hypothetical situation.
Shangri-La itself is an intriguing place, based on the mythical kingdom of Shambhala which is mentioned in ancient Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist texts, it is a place outside of – or perhaps abandoned by – time. A new Garden of Eden, hidden from the outside and untouched by war, it’s a place of peace where the cultivation of one’s knowledge, wisdom and self is the most important thing. There is a darker side to this supposed utopia as one would expect – and let’s be honest hope for – leading the characters too much soul-searching on what to do next.
Without going into specific detail for anything resembling plot spoilers, there is plenty of discussion of a spiritual nature, a look at the philosophies and direction of east vs west on a civilised scale as well as the trade-off between ideals and freedom and what that word really means. It’s not one of those book some people choose to call ‘life changing’ but it is nevertheless a good exercise in thought and a solid enjoyable way to spend your reading time.
This is a quick read with plenty of quotable passages, as evidenced by the four I chose not to add into this review. To begin with I was expecting something a lot more action packed, mistakenly I thought this may be in the style of the The Lost World or King Solomon’s Mines and books of that ilk but instead I was treated to a rather more placid affair which concentrates on inner conflicts rather than the more external nature of survival as the above books do.