“Visit secluded Shangri-La”

Title: Lost Horizon
Author: James Hilton
Date: 1933
Publisher: Macmillan & Co.
Place: London

I am not surprised to learn that Franklin Roosevelt adored this novel, naming both an aircraft carrier and his weekend getaway digs Shangri-La, and less so that his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, immediately changed the latter’s name to Camp David. (CV-38 vanished even sooner.)

Another found manuscript adventure story with a taste of meditative Utopia and post-Great War ennui, Lost Horizon became a success only after Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips did. Both are specimens of the novel of sentiment, which may be called the romance novel only without the latter’s nominal goals. Not for nothing was Frank Capra chosen to film it.

Hilton’s small novel (61,000 words) charms us still, nailed to its perch and period by its opening line:
Cigars had burned low, and we were beginning to sample the disillusionment that usually afflicts old school friends who have met again as men and found themselves with less in common than they had believed they had.

This disappointed presence is dated and constant, but minimal.

The ending is a bit muddled. One imagines that Hilton did not want to write the murder of an escapee, and, of course, given the format, he needed someone to escape with the tale. He doesn’t quite pull it off, but it hardly mars the book as a whole.

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