Posted by: Jenny | Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The woods, the water and the man

I’ve just finished reading Artemis Cooper’s Patrick Leigh Fermor – An Adventure. I don’t usually write about something I’ve read immediately after I put it down. I prefer to let it sink in for a day or two. But I was anxious to finish this book, though it was on the whole a good read. Why was I so anxious to finish reading it? I think the answer lies in the fact that I didn’t really like Leigh Fermor, the more I got to know about him.

Cooper was a family friend, and as such, she paints a positive picture. She writes very well, but reading between the lines one can glean a very different picture of Paddy: self-seeking, indolent, careless of what others may think of him (this is not necessarily a negative trait, however) and ready to gloss over his own and others’ failings. On the other hand he was clearly charming, fun to be around, and – in the end- grateful for the opportunities life had offered him.

I got bored with the endless descriptions of parties, the name-dropping and interweaving of the lives of these European minor literati of the mid-twentieth century. Cooper cleverly narrates enough of Leigh Fermor’s travels and experiences on his 1930s walk across Europe, and his later love affair with Greece, to hold the story together and illustrate it for someone who has not yet read his books, without boring those who have read them.

At the end, I am prompted to re-read A Time of Gifts and especially my favourite, Between the Woods and the Water, which I first read soon after its publication in the late 1980s. If this is the mark of a good literary biography, then Cooper has succeeded.


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