Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure
- John Murray General Publishing Division
- Publication Date:
- 11 October 2012
- Biography General
Showing 1-2 out of 2 reviews.
An authorised and friendly biography of writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. Ms Cooper had access to all the documents and contacts she needed and has produced a good, steady affectionate document of his life. And a far from boring life it was. As well as telling us about subject of the book Ms Cooper also manages to bring to life the lost world of Britain and Europe in the 1930s and 1950s as seen through the eyes and experiences of socialites and minor aristocrats. There is the occasional hint of criticism but it's obvious that Ms Cooper liked her subject. She has produced not a hagiography but certainly an biography strong on admiration.
I bought 'A Time Of Gifts', loved it, but for some reason was interrupted in my reading and lost the moment. Nonetheless, I remained in principle a great fan of Patrick Leigh Fermor, because I was so thrilled by his writing, his knowledge, and his enthusiasm for people, places, and history.I pre-ordered this biography as soon as I heard it was coming out, and it did not disappoint. Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915 - 2011) was clearly an extraordinary man with considerable charm, though if one did not succumb to it he was probably quite wearing. After a rather curious childhood and adolescence in which he had attempted unsuccessfully to fit himself to various social groups he set off alone in the winter of 1934, aged eighteen, to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. 'A Time Of Gifts', published in 1977, describes the first part of that journey, as far as the Iron Gates, and one would be well advised to have read at least a substantial part of it before attempting this biography, as the biography draws on it to illustrate aspects of his character and style. PLF stayed in Europe until the outbreak of WWII, when he returned to England to join up. Commissioned into the Intelligence Corps, he was posted to Crete to support the Resistance, and in 1944 commanded the Anglo-Cretan team which abducted General Heinrich Kreipe and transported him to Egypt. It was during this abduction that one of the most oft-told PLF events occurred. Paddy and others were keeping the General hidden in the mountains while waiting for the boat to take them off the island, and as dawn broke on snow capped Mount Ida the General murmured "Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Socrate", the opening lines of an ode by Horace which Paddy knew by heart, and he recited the ode to the end from where the General had left off. As described in 'A Time Of Gifts', "The General's blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain top to mine - and when I'd finished, after a long silence, he said: 'Ach so, Herr Major!', It was very strange. 'Ja, Herr General.' It was as though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together." His great fondness for Greece and Crete and their people made it hard for him when after the war the political situation became complicated and the British went from honoured wartime allies to hated interventionists, and he was not perhaps always skillful in his responses. Loudly singing more verses of nationalist songs than most locals know is not necessarily endearing. In the 1970s his car was blown up by the communists, and friendships with some of his wartime comrades became strained. His friendships included members of the European aristocracy, the film world, and writers, and his experiences ranged from sleeping in caves to brawling in castles. Seeming to live largely without money, he was supported by friends, particularly by women, one of whom, the long suffering Joan, he finally married. What at first appears an imbalance in what he received, is corrected by the pleasure he was clearly able to give people by the interest he took in them. One woman was quoted as saying that while with most men it was all take take take, with Paddy it was give, give, give. A hotel maid left him a note to say he had given her the happiest day of her life, after he discussed Beaudelaire with her and accepted her invitation to view the local sites. This biography is fascinating not just for Paddy's life, but for the lives around him. I was frequently wondering 'How did they do that? How did they get the time/money/energy?' as groups of increasingly aged friends set off blythely on yet another uncomfortable expedition to the back of beyond, breaking off from time to time in ones and twos and reuniting in another country.Cooper quotes Frederick Raphael in The Sunday Times, reviewing 'A Time Of Gifts', saying "One feels he could not cross Oxford Street in less than two volumes, but then what volumes they would be!" It would be easy to fill this review with PLF anecdotes. Cooper has taken on a huge task in making a highly readable biography about someone she knew personally, a war hero and highly regarded travel writer, a linguist and scholar, a charmer and perhaps just a little bit of a bounder. I am restraining myself from ordering copies for everyone I know.
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