Patrick Leigh Fermor is a man of action and adventure. He walked across Europe at the age of 17 and captured a Nazi General in an audacious operation in the Second World War. He was a person who enjoyed his food and drink and was frequently the life and soul of the party. He is the last person that you would expect to venture into a monastery to spend time with the monks. He visited two monasteries in this study of religious life; a Trappist one, La Grande Trappe and a Cistercian one in France, Abbey of St Wandrille. The transition to monastery life for Fermor was quite tough, even though he took a discrete flash of brandy.
In the days that he was there, he grew to appreciate the routines and timelessness of the days. A lot of the monks day is spent in silence, particularly over meals, difficult for someone who has spent much time enjoying the social aspects of sharing food and wine. The monks that he could speak to gave him an insight to the lives that they led there, and how they lived before. In the one monastery, the librarian provided him with the key so he could enter as and when suited him, and he spent time reading his way through some of the books there. As tough as it was settling in to the monastic way of life, it was almost as difficult leaving and reverting to normal life, which surprised him somewhat. The third monastery he visited was an abandoned one in Turkey. The Rock Monasteries of Cappadocia are carved from the mountain itself, and the organic form brought calmness and the solitude that the monks required.
This is very different to the other books of his that I have read before; gone is the bravado and adventure, instead there is quiet observation and sensitive, respective prose. He brings alive the history of the places he stays too, they had been founded and built way back in time. He explores his feelings too, losing the sense of death and foreboding and restriction to enjoying the solitude and peace that being there bought. It also shows is his capacity to mix with all types of people, from the abbots whose word was law, to the lowliest monk and bring their characters out in his books. Well worth reading. 3.5 stars overall.