Patrick Leigh Fermor rightly lays a claim to be one of our greatest travel writers. He is most famous for his walk across Europe in 1933 from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. It was distilled down to three books; A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and then the final volume published after his death, The Broken Road and tell the story of a Europe now lost and the beginning rumbles of war and tension across the continent. Other travel books that he wrote were about the country that he fell head over heels in love with, Greece and of his travels around the Caribbean.
He was also a great writer of letters; this was a pre-internet day, and international phone calls were problematic, to say the least, so this was his way of keeping in touch with his wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Adam Sisman has spent hours pouring over the material from the National Library of Scotland and private collections of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s letters to bring us this fine collection and insight into his character and passions.
Leigh Fermor writes to all manner of people in this collection, but there are several names that crop up regularly, Xan Fielding, Lawrence Durrell, John Betjeman and his wife Joan. There are letters to lovers, including Balasha Cantacuzène, a Romanian princess and a large number of apologetic letters to the publisher John Murray as another deadline for a book sailed by. He used them to inform people of the latest projects he was working on, to develop ideas, to sort out his social life and organise the steady stream of visitors to his Greek home.
This is the second collection of letters by Fermor, the other is In Tearing Haste written from the Duchess of Devonshire which I haven’t read yet. But this collection of letters written from 1940 to 2010 by a master of prose is really quite special. They have a different style of writing to his books, probably as he never anticipated them being published, but they are entertaining, amusing and demonstrate just how gregarious and full of fun and life he was. I didn’t realise that he used to frequently stay just outside Wimborne and these letters show just how he could mix with the great and the good as well as the local peasants and be accepted by all of them. Definitely one for the fan of Leigh Fermor, but also would appeal to those that want to learn about the character of a fascinating man.