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Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure

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Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was a war hero whose exploits in Crete are legendary, and above all he is widely acclaimed as the greatest travel writer of our times, notably for his books about his walk across pre-war Europe, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water; he was a self-educated polymath, a lover of Greece and the best company in the world.

Artemis Cooper has drawn on years of interviews and conversations with Paddy and his closest friends as well as having complete access to his archives. Her beautifully crafted biography portrays a man of extraordinary gifts - no one wore their learning so playfully, nor inspired such passionate friendship.

448 pages, Hardcover

First published September 29, 2012

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About the author

Artemis Cooper

22 books26 followers
She is the only daughter of the second Viscount Norwich and his first wife, Anne (née Clifford), and a granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper. She has a brother, the Hon. Jason Charles Duff Bede Cooper, and a half-sister, Allegra Huston, the only child of Lord Norwich and Enrica Soma Huston, the estranged wife of American film director John Huston. She attended the French Lycee, the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Woldingham and Camden School for Girls. She then went to St Hugh's College, Oxford and obtained a degree in English language and literature. In July 2015, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of York.

She spent time in Alexandria, Egypt, with Voluntary Service Overseas teaching English at the University of Alexandria. She has also lived in America, mostly in New Mexico.

In 1986, Artemis Cooper married fellow writer and historian Antony Beevor. The couple have two children, Nella and Adam.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 163 reviews
February 10, 2017
Patrick, or Paddy (as he was always called) really lived his life exactly as he wanted to. Nothing stopped him, not age, not war, not lack of money. He had adventures, captured a German officer, killed a Greek man by not knowing his gun was loaded, had an affair with a Balkan princess and smoked, drank and womanised all to excess. Whatever Paddy wanted to do, Paddy did. And then he wrote about it in 21 books earning him the title of, "Britain's greatest living travel writer". I don't know about that, but he was probably the most prolific.

He started his travels with very little money but a great deal of charm and found a lot of hospitality and even semi-diplomatic jobs on the strength of his upper-class upbringing and connections. He never really earned much but that didn't worry him because there were always others who would help him out. His long-suffering girlfriend who became, when it suited him much later, his wife, was wealthy and provided for him.

Wikipedia has the author down as a scholar. Scholar of what? He was expelled from school and although he was well-read at least in poetry, and a writer himself, that hardly qualifies him to be called a scholar.

The author's excessive admiration for Patrick Leigh Fermor has made the book somewhat of a hagiography. It's all a bit plodding too. Much as I find this man interesting, it is impossible to ignore his inability or disdain to control his appetites for womanising and drinking. He did as he pleased at every turn and if that hurt other people, that certainly didn't concern him. His obsessive interest in colour and race, not in a good way and his snobbish attitudes were ignored by the author.

If anyone can be said to have lived their life according to the existential philosophy of Sartre (now rather updated), where self-actualisation was all, and everything, morality included, was subservient to that, it is Patrick Leigh Fermor. He lived in Greece, but always wanted to die and be buried next to his late wife, Joan. In 2011, suffering from cancer, he made it back to England, and died the very next day aged 96.

3.5 stars, rounded up for Paddy, A great, colourful eccentric gone from the world.

Profile Image for Kris.
175 reviews1,446 followers
January 15, 2018
Update January 15, 2018: In my review of this biography and in comments, I had discussed that we needed a biography of Joan Leigh Fermor, PLF's wife and an amazing photographer and traveller in her own right. I'm happy to note that there is finally a biography of JLF -- Joan: The Remarkable Life of Joan Leigh Fermor by Simon Fenwick. I just ordered it, so fingers crossed that it will be good!

Patrick Leigh Fermor seems to have led a charmed life. He died in 2011 at the age of 96, after living an unorthodox life on his own terms. Leigh Fermor was a war hero, serving as an intelligence officer on Crete and operating throughout Greece during World War II. He now is best known as a travel writer -- indeed, his A Time of Gifts is one of my favorite books of all time. In this affectionate biography, Artemis Cooper uses letters and interviews, publications and journal entries, to describe Leigh Fermor's life in all its complexity, conflict, and joy. This biography is likely to be of interest to readers who already love Leigh Fermor's writing, but it may also bring new readers to his work.

Leigh Fermor was born in 1915 in London to Lewis Leigh Fermor, a respected geologist working for the English Civil Service and stationed in India, and Æileen, a free spirit who loved theatre and socializing, but who chafed against staid expectations for behavior. Paddy-Mike lived the first years of his life separated from his parents and older sister, Vanessa as we has brought up by the Martin family in Northamptonshire, to protect him from possible attack by the Germans. By all accounts, this was an idyllic period in Leigh Fermor's life, but it ended when his mother brought him to live with her in London. He was not yet five.

Leigh Fermor's parents were profoundly incompatible, so they separated and later divorced. Leigh Fermor's youth saw him veering between two extremes: a bright boy with an impressive memory and a talent for languages and history, who was also undisciplined and unwilling (and perhaps unable) to abide by rules. He loved socializing, acted without thinking of consequences, and generally let his high spirits move him to act. As a result, he had difficulty remaining in any one school for longer than a few terms. By the time Leigh Fermor turned 18, his future was in doubt. He was in debt from living a wild social life, he had no degree and no prospects for an academic or a professional future, and his lack of discipline made a tenure in the army questionable at best. Cooper traces these aspects of Leigh Fermor's personailty not only in his youth, but throughout his life. The contrast between his meditative, scholarly inclinations and his adventuresome, exuberant spirit remained a constant.

Photo by Joan Leigh Fermor

At this point, Leigh Fermor developed his plan to walk across Europe, from Holland to Constantinople. The prospect excited him -- the chance of adventure, the promise of meeting new people, the opportunity to see places he had read about in history texts and works of literature, and the ability to make his own decisions about where to go and what to do. He got some funding to help him outfit himself for life as a wanderer, made arrangements to receive his allowance in intervals on the road, and set off on December 8, 1933. The first stage of this journey later was retold by Leigh Fermor in A Time of Gifts, while stage two is related in Between the Woods and the Water. (A posthumous volume collecting Leigh Fermor's writings about the final stage of the journey is set to be published in Spring 2014.)

Cooper draws heavily on Leigh Fermor's writings to tell of his travels during this period, but she also provides some additional perspective. She cites on interviews with Leigh Fermor to indicate places where he fictionalized some events. She explores the gaps between 18-year-old Leigh-Fermor's rudimentary understanding of politics and his later recognition that these political blinders made him miss many crucial details relating to the rise of Nazism in Central Europe. She later traces the difficult publication history of these volumes, as for anything that Leigh Fermor wrote. Paddy was often plagued by writer's block, He wrote very slowly, and often was distracted when he was writing. Decades after his walk through Europe, he was overwhelmed by the success of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Cooper's biography provides insight into this aspect of Leigh Fermor's life, particularly as she quotes from correspondence between Paddy and his publisher.

Princess Balasha Cantacuzène

Cooper also provides insight in Leigh Fermor's life after the walk. She details his relationship with Princess Balasha Cantacuzène, a Romanian painter whom he met in Athens, and with whom he lived for years until the onset of Wrold War II. She describes his work in World War II, when he worked as a British Intelligence Officer, focusing especially on work with the Cretan Resistance Movement. His journeys through Greece and his language skills made him a valuable officer, as did his ability to forge strong relationships with people from different cultures. Leigh Fermor achieved fame for leading a successful operation to kidnap a German general on Crete. Cooper describes not only this action, but also its afterlife, including some controversy over different versions of events, and what happened when Hollywood took interest. Greece remained an important part of Leigh Fermor's life until his death. He visited often, wrote two well-received travel books (Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese and Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece), and later designed and built a house there.

Moss, General Kreipe, and Leigh Fermor on Crete

For a long period of time after WWII, Leigh Fermor lived a hand-to-mouth existence. A constant in his life was Joan Rayner, whom he met just after World War II, and who was his longtime partner, and later his wife. In Cooper's portrait, Rayner emerges as a fascinating figure: calm, quiet, practical, intelligent, beloved by her close friends, and, according to Cooper, happy for Leigh Fermor to engage in affairs and spend considerable time away from her. As depicted by Cooper, theirs was not a conventional relationship. Using personal correspondence and interviews with friends. Cooper shows the depth of their mutual love and respect for each other. I would have liked more focus on Joan throughout the biography -- or, perhaps, for someone to write a biography of her. She appears as a self-contained person, someone who valued a spiritual, emotional and intellectual connection with Leigh Fermor far more than any physical relationship. She also was widely-traveled, a skilled photographer, an intelligent person with many gifts and a quiet confidence in herself.

Joan Leigh Fermor

In the end, Cooper presents Patrick Leigh Fermor as a three-dimensional figure, a man whose gifts and flaws shaped his life. He veered between depression and exhilaration throughout his life, but consistently viewed himself as profoundly fortunate. He lived outside of convention, on his own terms. Cooper does not gloss over his flaws, but explores them with sensitivity and balance. I emerged with a better understanding of his life, and a new foundation from which to approach his writings which I have not yet read.

Profile Image for Nancy.
388 reviews59 followers
October 28, 2020
For the PLF fan. Others will be better served by reading his works first. For the fan, this fills in the cracks, but I think you end up liking him a little less. What’s charming in an 18-year old afoot is less so in a middle-aged perennial mooch with writer’s block. Still, he was a wonderful writer and obviously provided value received; the author (who was one of the charmed) does an excellent job of presenting both sides. He also knew how lucky he was.
Profile Image for Makis Dionis.
475 reviews110 followers
May 10, 2019
Ο Πάντι, ένας γυρολόγος της Ευρώπης και όχι μόνο, που λάτρεψε την ομορφιά της ελεύθερης ψυχής του Έλληνα, και την άγρια ομορφιά της Κρήτης και της Μάνης.

Προσπάθησε να ζήσει λογοτεχνικά κ να το διηγηθεί, μεταμορφώνοντας αστραπιαία την ιδέα σε πράξη, ξορκίζοντας έτσι κάθε αίσθημα κινδύνου
Profile Image for fourtriplezed .
455 reviews96 followers
June 11, 2015
An interesting read and a well written biography. Certainly worth the time of any one who admires the written words of Patrick Leigh Fermor. A book in two halves for me though. The excitement of the youthful walk and the Cretan WW2 adventures was captivating. The final half that consisted of upper middle class bludgeing ( a fine Australian word to describe a life of "Using" others) was a little too overbearing for my tastes. Is Leigh Fermor one of the best writers I have ever read? Absolutely. Would I have found conversation with him interesting? Of course! Will I read and reread him. Yes. Would I have liked him? Not sure. He may have been far too overbearing after a while.
Profile Image for ^.
907 reviews58 followers
January 20, 2015
For PLF, when aged about six, it was a book of stories on the legendary Robin Hood, together with his mother’s noted talent to ‘make things fun or memorable’, which unlocked the vast delights of the world of reading to him (p.13). His mother clearly had an eye for the unusual when she translated ’It’s a Long Way To Tipperary’ into Hindustani. Her young son, unsurprisingly, was infected with the same spirited playful zest for language. He translated ‘Widdecombe Fair’ and ‘D’ye ken John Peel’ into Italian (p.348). Even now I’m trying to picture the sound scene.

In Appendix III, Cooper reproduces PLF’s schoolboy translation (Dec. 1930) of Horace’s Ode I.9, ‘To Thaliarchus’. Metrically unkempt though not weedy, it strongly points to the trademark wild floriferous beauty of PLF’s later writings. In Crete during the Second World War, two bitterly opposed enemy combatants, captor and captured, found a common bond through their shared knowledge of that particular Latin Ode. Irrefutable evidence, surely, of the immense potential in learning poetry and prose by heart (a skill which PLF mastered very early); whilst actively avoiding educationalists preaching dumbing down. To know song and verse by heart, whether political, liturgical, or just plain poetical can give such immense pleasure. Yet, PLF was not always immune from a brash display of insensitivity; such as when joining in with the Greek National Anthem, and singing well beyond the first two verses (p.291) (i.e. within the compass of normal mortals) of what in full is a very lengthy poem by Dionysius. Very like us Brits really; most can sing just the first verse of “God Save the Queen”, fewer can by heart confidently sing the second verse; fewer still the third verse; let alone additional & more historic and esoteric verses beyond that. See https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

Post WW2, PLF was fortunate to fall into the publishing house of ‘John Murray’; inhabited at that time (1947) by John Grey Murray, known as Jock Murray. Cooper affectionately summarises Jock’s take on the relationship, where he happily fulfilled a multiplicity of roles: “…banker, promoter, psychiatrist, pen-pal or editor as occasion demanded.”

[For further insights into the character of Jock Murray I recommend a delightful illustrated book, published in 1996 by his son, John R. Murray, “A Gentleman Publisher’s Commonplace Book”
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1.... Everyone ought to keep a Commonplace Book].

The second half of “Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure” focuses to on the travels round Greece; seeing the country and its peoples, living and socialising with both Greek and European friends, and, of course, writing.

Cooper produces the choicest and most vividly apt of descriptions: “Paddy had found a way of writing that could deploy a lifetime’s reading and experience, while never losing sight of his ebullient, well-meaning and occasionally clumsy eighteen-year-old self. As one critic pointed out, this was a wonderful way of disarming his readers, who would then be willing to follow him into the wildest fantasies and digressions” (p.363).

If only the full written correspondence of Joan, PLF’s wife, might be published? In February 1991 she observed to a friend of PLF’s painfully acute procrastination; getting on with absolutely everything except for his much waited follow-up to “A Time of Gifts” and “Between the Woods and the Water”. Cooper describes an episode of great mirth where Joan gains the impression that PLF has finally, wonderfully, cracked the problem of producing the sequel to ATOG and BTW&TW, so longed for by his publisher and many, many readers. Alas no. Utterly in character, PLF’s excited and absolute delight had instead arisen from an entirely different source. He’d succeeded in translating P.G. Wodehouse’s “The Great Sermon Handicap” into Greek!

An adventure come full circle?
Profile Image for Jim Coughenour.
Author 4 books178 followers
January 25, 2013
I'd never heard of Patrick Leigh Fermor before I picked up the NYRB edition of A Time of Gifts at the end of 2005 – and I was bedazzled. I can't better Artemis Cooper's description of the book:
eleven chapters of writing that had been built up, layer upon layer, over the years… so folded over one another, so detailed in some passages and so deliberately blurred in others, uproariously funny one minute and burrowing into the bowels of historical conjecture the next, that the book reads like a journey across a continent that exists somewhere between memory and imagination.
Like the "young writer" she quotes, I "began reading straight away but after a few pages stopped and rubbed my eyes in disbelief. It couldn't be this good."

So, naturally, I approached this biography with both high expectations and a degree of skepticism. Could it really be that good? Reading Cooper's account of Paddy's walk across Europe in the winter of 1933-34, I couldn't stop myself from thinking, "but the original is so much better." And then something flipped. I was fascinated by the actual facts (as much as they can be recovered) as Cooper disentangled Fermor's memory from his imagination, and from whatever she can deduce besides.

I didn't hurry through this book; I read it over a period of months. It seemed to get better every time I picked it up. Cooper knew Leigh Fermor and her biography is full of warmth and affection, but it never tilts toward hagiography. The writing is strong and straightforward; it steadily conveys the charm of Paddy's character and intelligence. There are very few biographies that one finishes thinking: I would love to have known that man.

The most famous tale about Leigh Fermor is no doubt his capture of General Kreipe in 1944, as a British officer cadet in Crete. The most spectacular moment in this episode, at least for me, occurred when the dejected German recited, in Latin, the first stanza of Ode 1.9 by Horace. Leigh Fermor completed the ode and their mutual love of the Roman poet (in Cooper's words) "went a long way towards humanizing the relationship."

Paddy's life was packed with incidents like this. There is a certain humbling aspect in reading the biography. Leigh Fermor has more adventures in 5 pages that most of us do in our entire lives. That just isn't fair. Yet I almost grieved when he died at the very ripe age of 96, "calm and fully conscious." Cooper must have some magic of her own.
Profile Image for Phrodrick.
882 reviews36 followers
January 13, 2018
Artemis Cooper’s biography, Patrick Leigh Fermor; An Adventure may not be an authorized biography, but it is certainly a friendly one. Ms. Cooper had first met Fermor decades before via her parents who were his longtime friends. She freely admits she had had a crush on Mr. Fermor since she was seventeen. Whatever her credentials as a biographer, and historian her take on Fermor is as an insider and friend. That aside she has written a very readable, well researched and intelligent biographer on an adventurer, writer war hero and by the way ladies’ man. Normally I would be critical of the lack of analysis of a subject. In this case, the Bio of a fun person may not benefit by being dark to prove that the writer has not be co-opted by her subject.

Patrick Fermor was a fun guy. How much fun? One of his friends described his personality as a cure for depression. He was a party man, a singer of song in many languages and always ready with stories of remote places and remote people. Many of the ladies in his stories where short or long term lovers, but Ms. Cooper had to learn from other sources as his interviews rarely violated Fermor’s sense of discretion in such declarations. In his life he was known by the name Paddy.
Having failed as a student, and with no particular social advantages or work skill, 19 year old Paddy chose to walk across pre-World War II Europe. Much of his trip would fall under the heading of an innocent abroad as he admits to his lack of political awareness and sophistication about such matters. However his language and social skills were such that he could make friends everywhere and among the high and the low. On alternate days he might be sleeping in the open, once in a morgue and in castles. So quickly could be become friends to his hosts, they would supply him with the clothes to allow him to attend the parties with the smartest sets and see to it he had pocket money until the next (small) cheque arrived from home. How long he might stay as a guest in the local manors might vary, sometimes depending on the extra friendliness of his hostess. Warning to the reader of his travels, he was given to telling entertaining rather than exact versions of events.
This trek lasted about two years and took him into remote places in southern Europe and Turkey. His return to England almost forced him to come to terms with the need for a real job. Instead with the beginning of WWII he joined the British Army. Because of his knowledge of Greek he was assigned to Crete where he was a liaison officer with the Cretan Resistance to German Occupation. His service here involved not just providing supplies and coordinating operations, he had to keep the various local leaders from using the war as a chance to attack each other. This problem was never made any easier by the presence of a Communist faction as intent on discrediting anything British as thwarting the Nazi Army.

Without going into details at least two movies were made about his exploits in Crete, one with Dirk Bogarde as Patrick

After the War he would again face the problem of work but by now he was a published author. And could eke a living publishing travel stories and eventually his several books. Along the way he would befriend a wide variety of the social, literary and related leaders in politics and society. At times Ms. Cooper is given to name dropping with nothing but an assumption that the reader can link the names to the field and degree of accomplishment.

Speaking of the quality of the writing. In the first chapter or two, her style seemed to be that of a child speaking or what you might expect in a children’s book. Just as that began to turn me off, I realized she was using this style as a mirror of the youth of her subject. Once he came of age, her narrative assumed a more adult level of sophistication. A nice trick that.
I quickly found myself as enthusiastic about Paddy as Ms. Cooper. In fact I had, and have a strong desire to abandon myown reading list to adopt Paddy's’s, including his books and those of his friends and associates. A very literary and adventuresome challenge.

I will be seeking out more titles by Ms. Cooper and by Patrick Fermor.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,348 reviews
December 13, 2013
Although I have read and liked Patrick Leigh Fermor's writing for many years, I was disappointed in this biography. There was way too much information about what seemed like every minute of his long life. "Paddy" was a wonderful writer, obviously enjoyed his fun and had a fair amount of it, quite a man with the ladies, knew how to get along with and get treated generously by rich friends - but I didn't need to know quite so many details. Having read his writing about experiences during the War in Crete, also did not need this repeated in detail. A very interesting life, but the book could have used a good editor.
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,187 followers
Want to read
November 3, 2013
I met and briefly talked with Artemis Cooper tonight after her reading for this book. Classy lady, attractive, eloquent. Got her to sign my book and told her Paddy is a personal hero. A good evening all around.
249 reviews5 followers
August 17, 2017
A most unusual character whom I could best describe as Bohemian. Patrick, commonly called Paddy, was educated in England in the 1920's-1930's. His father who lived in India, was distanced by both geography and emotion, and he also divorced`Paddy's mother. Add to that his disapproval of Paddy's interest in languages and literature rather than maths and science, so it is little wonder that Paddy, at 18, decided to set off on his own to trek overland from England to Turkey and record his adventures along the way. He had a natural charm and an intelligence that enabled him to become the centre of attention at almost any gathering; a unique ability with languages also enabled his personal skills to flourish in any situation anywhere. The consequence was that he would be taken into people's homes and given lodgings and meals without hesitation on the part of the hosts. Paddy simply drifted from one place to another with minimal expense on his part. He eventually became part of the intelligence corps in the British Army in WW2 and served on Crete hel;ping coordinate guerilla groups fighting against the German Army. He was a prolific author writing articles and books but continued to live his rather irresponsible and bohemian life.
After many years he settled with his long time partner (who eventually became his wife) ina remote spot in Greece.
The author, Artemis Cooper has certainly explored every facet of Paddy's writings and life. A very different individual; a man of his time; intriguing and not easily forgotten.
Profile Image for Michael.
218 reviews44 followers
October 5, 2014
The biography hardly rises to the level of literature. The prose is lacking in style and overstuffed with the names of bit players and walk-ons in the life of a complex and interesting writer. Nevertheless, Artemis Cooper has rendered a valuable service to those who love the prose of Fermor by creating a timeline of his literary output. The book is more homage to a friend than objective assessment of the life and writings of a creative and unique writer. I read this as background for his monumental impressionist meditation on a walk through Europe that he took as a youth in the thirties of the twentieth century but wrote about as a mature adult. Cooper's work sheds valuable light (hence the three stars) on the experiences that gave rise to Fermor's three volumes about his youthful journey (A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water, and The Broken Road). My advice is to read Fermor's original works first and then use Cooper's work to provide some context. She includes some interesting photographs, maps, and appendices.
30 reviews1 follower
June 3, 2013
A book that in parts I enjoyed and in parts found tedious. The author's enthusiasm for the subject is clear and he is treated very sympathetically throughout. For big fans of his writing and those who knew him this book is wonderful. As a relative stranger to his work there were sections I found bewildering. There is an assumption that the reader already has some knowledge of the subject.

The book leaps in places and crawls in others. Pages are spent on a single evening in a tavern and a similar number expended to cover the transition from perfect health to cancer.

Patrick Leigh Fermour lived an absolutely fascinating life though I feel a better insight would be gained through his own writings. At times this biography feels like it is just filling gaps.

Overall it is a book I enjoyed but struggled to get through. One for existing fans.
Profile Image for Faith McLellan.
176 reviews1 follower
January 20, 2013
A lovely biography of an extraordinary man. Thoroughly enjoyed this.

Two of my favorite bits--among many--from this book. A quote from one of his friends: "Wouldn't it be lovely if Paddy came in pill-form, so you could take one whenever you felt depressed."

And this note, which Paddy wrote in a book he was reading when he felt his end was near: "Love to all and kindness to all friends, and thank you for a life of great happiness."

What a blessing to be able to write that!
Profile Image for Duane Dunkerson.
17 reviews2 followers
June 12, 2013
Remembering Patrick Leigh Fermor, as done by Pearson and Macfarlane (Patrick Leigh Fermor:An Adventure by Artemis Cooper)

Remembering Patrick Leigh Fermor benefits from an appreciation in The Guardian online, or it is more like a white-hot tribute to Fermor by Allison Pearson in meeting with Artemis Cooper, author of a very recent biography of Fermor. Also from The Guardian online, the same biography is recommended by Robert Macfarlane. Fermor was their hero, whose touchstone was WWII and Fermor's Cretan exploits therein. Heroes are rare today. What they did to become a hero is usually severely compromised by an emphasis on what the hero did not do or should not have done. The nay overpowers the yea - though still a hero, albeit qualified.

The qualification doesn't partake of morals. No heroes today are moral figures. Pearson and Macfarlane between them found him to be unconventional and faunlike. The faun wasn't like one in marble since he could smoke 80 cigarettes a day and drink like a drowning fish. Very early on, on the farm, he roamed the English countryside and it is suggested he wanted to always do so. To do so he was a bit of a sponger and more like a satyr but that was more than counterbalanced by a passion for living so that in his 80's (he died at 96) he could leap from rock to rock all the while asking about food, what had been visited, supplying information about Greek myths and Dylan Thomas - meantime sporting invigoration and curiosity in addition to being inconclusive and charming.

His personality did not need assembly. Such types can get to be tiresome though envied. Who spent a long time with him on their terms and put more luster on the hero's image? One could add to his being uncommon in many of his activities such as in moral matters. He wrote about a long journey in 1933-34 when he was 18. Then, when he was much older, books about that travel came out in 1977 and 1985. He wrote them from notes not at all supportive of what found its way into print. He, in one example, recounted how he rode across a plain on horseback when he didn't have a horse.

He was not liked by all. He certainly liked the Greeks of the Mani peninsula where he had a home. Why the Greeks? Doesn't the passion for living and being an invigorating influence have representation and reception in other times and places? Yes, in other places, but in other times, certainly in more recent times, is doubtful. The sensations he brought to the fore are routine now as they are accentuated by television, the Internet, and movies. One vital distinction remains - he was real, they are not.
Profile Image for Nigel.
817 reviews93 followers
July 12, 2016
I loved the Patrick Leigh Fermor's books I've read so far and this biography appealed to me. For the most part I found it an enjoyable insight into a quite remarkable life. He really comes over as a man out of his time - his approach to life would have been a great one even if he had been born in almost any previous century. He was a real explorer, exceptionally well read with enormous knowledge of areas that interested him. His early life was a little difficult however once he started exploring there was literally no stopping him. His personal life was maybe best described as colourful. I did find some section of this rather slow - at times feeling like long lists of meetings with the good and great of his time. However it is a very comprehensive biography of a remarkable person.
Profile Image for David Stone.
Author 12 books25 followers
April 6, 2015
This is a superb biography of a man who decided to take a walk when he was a teenager and then managed to live off the adventure for the rest of his life. And when he was posted to Greece during World War II as a result of the languages he learned on his walk, he kidnapped a German general and became the most celebrated Englishman in Greece since Lord Byron. Cooper nicely maps Paddy's walk across Europe, as well as his struggles to write about it decades afterwards. If anything, she undersells Fermour as one of the greatest English writers, whose combination of fin de siècle ornamentation and post-modern narration tricks are unique and still largely unappreciated. And now I must go buy some walking shoes.
Profile Image for Laura.
6,872 reviews556 followers
November 23, 2012
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
Biography by Artemis Cooper charting the extraordinary life story of the celebrated travel writer and war hero. Read by Samuel West.
Profile Image for Elsbeth Kwant.
338 reviews21 followers
May 15, 2020
A wonderful complement to the trilogy of Fermors epic walk to Constantinople. It puts his life into perspective and shows what a relatively short transitionary moment the travel was.

I will never be able to think about Transsylvania withouth Dervla Murphy's description of it ('a one-word poem').

Fermor was larger than life, causing his friends to wish to be able to take him in pill-form, against depression. Also the anecdote that he didn't really take in the fall of France, because he was writing 'a poem about a fish pond in the Carpathians', rings true. He seemed out of place in a regular jog: 'He looked very good in an office, but none of us could think of anything to do with him'. He soon turned any office into a lively place of drink and laughter, not necessarily considerate. 'There was a very insensitive side to Paddy. He was very bumptious, a bit of a know-all and his enthusiasm and noisiness could be rather wearing.' The biographer, I find, has found a beautiful mean between the beautiful and the sad. 'Those whose restlessness barred them from inner peace were doomed to take refuge in crowds'. In all, a fast-paced story about a fast-paced man: 'Quite the most enchanting maniac I've ever met', seems to sum it up nicely.
Profile Image for Spiros.
827 reviews24 followers
October 10, 2017
Never was a book so aptly titled. Cooper's overview of Leigh Fermor's great hike from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople vividly brought those books back to me, and she does an equally good job of evoking the themes of his later travels, the books he wrote much earlier. Paddy lived an amazing, charmed life, even if it did cause Somerset Maugham to dismiss him as "that middle-class gigolo for upper class-women" (Paddy had drunkenly, and unwillingly, and repeatedly, and unforgivably, made fun of Willy's stammer the weekend they were together at Cap Ferrat). One of the nuggets of trivia that emerge from this book: Paddy and Alan Watts were schoolmates at King's School in Canterbury, the school that Paddy was expelled from for holding hands with the greengrocer's 25 year old daughter (Paddy always favored women slightly older than himself, Wendys to his Peter Pan).
I have always had a fantasy dinner table of Bill Veeck, Julia Child, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and John Huston: after reading about Paddy's torrid affair with Ricki Huston, John's estranged wife, I've had to reconsider that table. Perhaps it might obviate any fantasy awkwardness to give Preston Sturges or Bohumil Hrabal John Huston's chair.
Profile Image for Daniel Bowden.
14 reviews
February 26, 2019
Although this book was given to me by a good friend, I have to say it wasn’t my favorite read. I found Paddy to be an interesting character, and surely to have lived an adventurous life, but the details of his travels were too painstakingly distracting. I felt as if I couldn’t dive deeply into the book and come to fully understand the greatness of his life due to the minute irrelevant details that occurred too often. I might rather read some of his own accounts of his travels.
Profile Image for Yusuf.
230 reviews28 followers
March 23, 2020
Sonuna kadar zevk ü sefa ile bir hayat nasıl yaşanırsa o şekilde yaşamış PLF ya da Paddy. Kitap da muhteşem bir araştırmaya dayanıyor. Ve fakat öznesini kıvrandıran bir inceleme değil. Yine de su gibi akıyor anlatı. Paddy'nin kendi kitaplarını da okumaya başlayacağım bundan sonra, orası kesin.
220 reviews
December 21, 2021
Where to start? Does my admiration lie first with the author's accomplishment of such a detailed biography of a man who was larger than life, or should the much admired Patrick Leigh Fermor get more adoration from me on top of what he has already earned for decades? Artemis Cooper has written an impressive chronology of PLF's life: it is a detailed timeline (easy to get bogged down in many foreign places names and people) rather than an analysis of the man. She is also clearly an admirer from aristocratic/celebrity stock: her grandparents on both sides knew Paddy. Of course one admires PLF, the handsome adventurer, war hero on Crete and polyglot charmer that he was, with his physical derring-do, love of literature and his openness to minority cultures and languages. It's all an attractive mix and such sparkling company opened doors wherever he travelled; firstly, on his Great Walk from Holland to Instanbul in the 1930s, and on subsequent travels. He seldom had to pay his way by befriending the rich and famous, bedding a Rumanian princess and other young and beautiful, well-connected women of means. In between he wrote several travel books (none of which I have yet read, but look forward to eagerly) to great acclaim, although he was often dogged by writer's block. Joan Ryner became his regular means of support, companion and later his (somewhat stoic) wife. She predeceased him, but not before they had built their dream home together in the Peloponnese in Greece and reaped financial rewards and fame, constantly surrounded by the well-heeled and literati: including close friends John Betjeman, and the Duchess of Devonshire. Paddy Fermor was certainly a hero of his times but his self-centredness and chauvinism would not go down well today. 4,5
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,210 reviews266 followers
September 23, 2014
I read A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor and was so inspired by the experience that I went straight onto this biography. I already know that feeling inspired by "Paddy" (as everyone knew him) is a common reaction to his work and readers frequently become in thrall to this amazing man, as did most of those who met him in life.

On the off chance the name Patrick Leigh Fermor is new to you, as it was to me until recently, in addition to being one of the great prose writers of the 20th century, recounting his travels; he was a war hero; an open minded, charming companion; and he had an insatiable appetite for both learning and life.

Artemis Cooper has done a fine job of condensing a full and fascinating life into around 400 pages, and managing to provide sufficient focus to the key stories and also giving a good overview.

What comes across most clearly is Paddy's energy and restless spirit. His exuberance and lust for life charmed the majority of those he met but he was quite capable of being appallingly tactless too, as one memorable encounter with W Somerset Maugham amply illustrates.

What is even more remarkable is that he found a companion, and ultimately wife, Joan, and both were devoted to each other, despite their open relationship. As he was penniless for much of his life, she would occasionally hand him some cash at the end of dinner in case he needed to procure the services of a prostitute. Artemis Cooper doesn't dwell too much on this aspect of his life but does highlight Paddy's great loves, many of whom ran concurrently with his relationship with Joan. Paddy outlived Joan by a few years and was clearly lost without her despite friends rallying around him.

So, a fine biography of a remarkable man, and yet I still have a nagging feeling that his own writing gave me a better sense of Paddy the man than this biography. It's hard to say how or why. Anyhow that is not to detract from a wonderful book.

As Paddy wrote, hours before he died, and knowing the end was looming: "Love to all and kindness to all friends, and thank you for a life of great happiness". The perfect epitaph for a truly remarkable human being who is well served by this biography.

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Click here for "The Patrick Leigh Fermor Appreciation Society"
Profile Image for Christopher.
1,260 reviews147 followers
June 19, 2022
This is a decent, though not amazing, biography of the travel writer most renown for his reminiscences of a youthful 1934–1935 walking tour across Europe, written decades later by a much older and wiser man. Biographer Artemis Cooper knew Leigh Fermor already from the early 1970s, as she is the granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper and daughter of John Julius Norwich, close acquaintances of his. This allowed her to spend a great deal of time with Leigh Fermor while he was alive, soaking up details and entering into his confidence, and also it gave her a deep familiarity with the upper-class British society in which Leigh Fermor moved in the decades after World War II. Cooper evidently began work on the biography already in the early millennium, when Leigh Fermor was still alive, which enabled her to interview some of his acquaintances that passed away before he did.

The chapters on Leigh Fermor’s famous walk from Holland to Constantinople, and the account of his war years largely summarize previously published work. In some instances Cooper points out fictional in the account of the great walk, where Leigh Fermor invented a character or an itinerary, but she never gets deep into investigation. The years 1936–1939, when Leigh Fermor was living with the Romanian princess Balasha Cantacuzene, are covered only cursorily, presumably because everyone involved was long dead and there was little documentary evidence. The 30 years or so after 1945 are then an extremely detailed list of Leigh Fermor’s travels all over the world, and his stays at wealthy friends’ estates and attendance at their parties. His difficulty meeting publishers’ deadlines and ultimate abandonment of the third volume of his walking-tour memoirs are described in depth.

Besides the lack of detail on the Balasha years – for me perhaps the most intriguing part of Leigh Fermor’s life – one thing that holds this back from being a great biography is Cooper’s failure to give modern context for the places Leigh Fermor traveled. For example, Cooper mentions that Leigh Fermor had visited “Pogrodets” and “Koritza” during the war years in Greece, but it would have been helpful for readers to note that these are the Albanian towns of Pogradec and Korçë, respectively. The same is true of Leigh Fermor’s tour of Yugoslavia where he toured Byzantine monasteries in “southern Serbia” – this is now the ethnic Albanian-controlled portion of Kosovo.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,133 reviews
May 29, 2013
Until I heard this book on Radio 4's Book of the Week, their non fiction book slot, I had never heard of Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Cooper has written a comprehensive and sensitive biography about Fermor. He was a very talented writer, most famous for a travel books, and in particular for one on a walk across Europe in-between the wars. He wrote about other countries, and numerous articles. He was a very complex character, troubled in lots of ways, and carefree in others. The people he met either jelled with him straight away or would end up taking a dislike to him fairly soon after meeting him, one individual even tried to stab him.

He bristled against authority, and through contacts managed to get a position at Sandhurst in the guards. Illness meant that he couldn't continue and was sought and signed up for intelligence corp and departed to his beloved Greece. He had what was sometimes known as a good war, and is also well know for the abduction of a German general.

He took many lovers through his life, but he met a lady called Joan Rayner at the very end of the war in Cairo. She was to become a lover at fist, dazzled by his adventures and wartime records, she eventually became the woman that became his lifelong companion; they married in 1968.

Even though he had travelled and written extensively about other countries his first love was Greece. With Joan's inheritance they bought and renovated a place in Kardamyli, and it became their refuge. Tragically Joan died after a fall at the property. One of the saddest part of the book is when he realises that he want to tell Joan something or write something to her and can't anymore.

Excellent biography. Really enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Tuck.
2,223 reviews208 followers
July 28, 2014
oh a wonderful bio for us fermor lovers. see kris's super review for a full explanation https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

so we learn the scoop of why paddy got kicked out of school and started his journey on foot to istambul in 1930, why he only spent a few days in the city that was his seemingly raison, then lived with a princess in Moldavia (sp?) (hers is such a tragic story, after the nazis got done mauling her, the communists took over and took every thing from her family, not saying this wasn't deserved, but still, brutal) , then fermor's attempts to be a wwii flying ace slash irish guard (sort of like special forces?), his wash out, and subsequent insurgent assignment in crete, where he kidnaps a german general and succeeds in smuggling him off the island, then his love affair with greece, his building a spectacular home there, and his huge struggles in writing books and paying for his lifestyle.
fermor was almost too much to believe, and most all his books are top notch and a complete pleasure to read, and this bio by cooper could not have had a better style and content.

fermors best books are the trilogy of walking from the hook of holland to Constantinople, and his time sojourning in athos, and his books of northern greece, rumeli, and southern greece, mani.

if you get addicted to them, he has others too, of carribean, the war, etc.
Profile Image for Nicholas Whyte.
4,627 reviews177 followers
September 4, 2017

I really knew Patrick Leigh Fermor only for his teenage odyssey; I had forgotten, if I had ever known, that he was a very well-known travel writer already before A Time of Gifts was published, winning awards for his accounts of the Caribbean and Greece. This all came after an extraordinary incident in the war, immortalised in the film Ill Met By Moonlight, where he mastermninded and carried out, at huge personal risk, the kidnapping of the German general in charge of the occupation of Crete. He swam the Hellespont at the age of 69.

Cooper is the daughter of John Julius Norwich and grand-daughter of Lady Diana Cooper, who were close friends of Leigh Fermor's, but she maintains a critical distance from her subject - notably, his inability to take orders which meant that he never successfully worked for anyone else (apart from his military career, though even that was constant chafing with authority) and his complex love life, which eventually settled down into a long-term open relationship with Joan Monsell, who he finally married after more than twenty years together. He seems to have been very happy, and generally charming (though there is a horrendous account of a disastrous set of exchanges with Somerset Maugham, in which Leigh Fermor was clearly at fault), and lived doing the things that he loved doing, leaving the world generally a better place for his existence.
Profile Image for Clare.
21 reviews11 followers
May 27, 2013
This is the type of book that I had hoped Hemingways Boats was going to be(and most certainly wasn't:see my review)I had never heard of Paddy until I picked up this book.

The author captures a unique spirit here. The book follows Paddys life chronologically from his fostering on a farm to his troubled school days, to his walk across Europe and his time in pre-war Roumania. Its covers his war times escapades including the madcap kidnapping of a German general on Crete and their bonding(they were reunited on TV in 1972) and his many friendships and affairs. It touches on his procrastination in regards to his writing and the building of his house in Greece and his friendship with Deborah Devonshire. In all I felt she captured what must have been a choc-a-bloc life in great detail and his character with accuracy. At least I was heartbroken to finish it as if I was saying goodbye to an old friend.

I did not think her deeper psychological analysis was quite up to scratch in that she seemed not to address his motivations or his mysterious main relationship with his wife but that could stem from the classic British stiff upper lip syndrome and also from Paddys wifes desire for privacy.

In the end the lack of this in depth searching maybe serves to add a certain English flavour to the man and the authors meticulous coverage of his life does make up for it. Heartily recommend it.
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