14 APRIL 1961, Page 28

Birds of a Feather Saint-Exupery. By Marcel Migeo. Translated by

Hernia Britfault. (Macdonald, 30s.) ERNEST K. GANN has written the autobiography of a professional airline pilot. Do not be misled by this statement. Fate is the Hunter is not a book in praise of streamlined chromium mile-eaters whose deadly function is to destroy the awareness of travel. As Mr. Gann makes plain by his choice of title, he is in the old tradition of the adventurer who, knowing that he is tempting fate, is both elated and fearful on that account. He starts with the pre-war days, when communications were chancy, navigation uncertain (much of the world was still uncharted), engines tempera- mental and techniques of flying crude. As the book proceeds and his companions fall victims one by one, there is something almost Homeric (if occasionally rather embarrassing) about the way in which Mr. Gann speculates upon their passing and reflects that for him too the time is running out.

Mr. Gann writes well, on the whole : he has some telling phrases, a sense of pace and presen- tation, a quick eye for people and a sort of con- trolled reverence for natural spectacles. But above all he has the ability to interest us in tech- nical and near-technical processes. There is a thick fog and the hydraulic system is blocked; he can't climb and he can't descend and in a few minutes he is going to catch fire. . . . About this kind of situation he writes superbly, building up tension but retaining precision, all the time making it absolutely plain what is happening and why. Not surprisingly, he becomes a little weary when describing his more recent experiences: despite improved techniques the war had kept excitement going, but now peace and progress have made everything so reliable that Mr. Gann, though glad to get his living more comfortably, badly misses the old uneasiness, the old fear. Fate is still hovering, but much farther off; and Mr. Gann is at his best, both as a flier and a writer, when it is looking at him through the windscreen.

1 should hazard that Saint-Exupdry's motives, whether in flying or writing, were much the same as Mr. Gann's. The trouble about this new biography by Marcel Migeo is that although Migeo was himself a pilot and a comrade of Saint- Exupery's, and although he has taken great pains to ascertain facts and do justice to his dead friend, he lacks the power to involve us in those mys- tiques of adventure and creation which were para- mount in Saint-Exupery's life. Mind you, Migeo scores some good points and is honest : he tells us that Saint-Exupery was a pettish and demanding child, exploited his mother ruthlessly when a young man, was irresponsible about money and, however brave a man, was only an average pilot. He models the feet of clay all right but where's the hero? M. Migeo keeps insisting he is there, and is ready with names, dates, facts, figures and literary awards to prove it. But what this book lacks is what Mr. Gann might have given it—a real feeling for man as he flies, gal- lant and brash, in the very face of fate. A feeling, if you like, for Icarus. Mr. Gann has this and Saint-Exupdry himself had it. M. Migeo has not.