The One You Wish You’d Written: ‘Lord Royston’s Tour’ by Lydia Davis

I’m ashamed (or maybe a bit proud) to say I’d never read any Lydia Davis until a couple of years ago when I accidentally Won a Short Story Competition that I don’t like to talk about at every opportunity, and Lydia Davis’s was one of the names mentioned by someone trying to describe my Award Winning Short Story. And then I read ‘The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis’, and went “of course!” and “I am not worthy!” and also, sometimes, “what?”

Davis is usually ranked with Barthelme (that’s my Barthelme, remember) in the Whirlwinding Cavalcade of Fizzing Idea Fireworks! genre, which is fair enough because they are and she does and it is. But she’s less glib than The Donald, more rooted in real, complicated emotions and reactions to things (Davis does quite irritated better than anyone else I can think of).

And, like me, she loves, subtitles.

‘Lord Royston’s Tour’ is a story I wish I’d written, and one I’d have loved to write: a deadpan reconstruction – based on actual letters – of the real Philip Yorke, Viscount Royston’s 1806 tour of the Russian Empire, including his accidental death, full of delicious local colour and detail, told like an epic historical novel in miniature.

With the Help of Some Bark:
Over the Caucasus

As soon as he can sit on a horse he takes leave of his Georgian friends, and rides out of town. The snow and ice on Mount Caucasus, along with the help of some bark he gets from a Roman Catholic missionary, restore him to perfect health and strength as soon as he beings ascending the mountain.

Etc.

Is it a parody? A commentary? A narrative experiment? What does it mean?

Enough with the theorising talk, and shut up: it’s just a great story.

(In Almost No Memory, FSG, 1997 and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, 2009)

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