Several years ago, when his long-time London publishers, John Murray, rashly announced impending publication of a biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, your astonished correspondent released a banshee yell across the crowded room.
Years later, with both legal and familial considerations finally disposed of, John Julius Norwich‘s daughter, Artemis Cooper – a celebrated author in her own right – is at last in a position to put her splendid book to bed without fear of repercussion. With both her subject and his widow, Joan, now sadly defunct (and with much new material amassed in the meantime), the road seems belatedly clear; and what better author to tell the colourful tale?
Paddy Fermor was one of those remarkable men who seconded his own, fascinating, life to those frequently secondary ones that constantly encircled him. Aesthete, author, traveller and perennial diplomat, this amiable, lofty man, with no children of his own, reached out to people, young and old, with both grace and ease; to such an extent that – in my case, at least – he was not merely respected, but revered.
My father’s bookshop in Berkeley Street – long gone, but affectionately remembered – might well have held overtones of Hatchards (which he ran also), a few hundred yards away on Piccadilly; but Paddy’s affection for both his publisher and his chum (he was one of my father’s best customers, but was particularly fond of Heywood Hill) extended, mysteriously, to me. Larger than life – six foot three if he were an inch – this warm-hearted giant of a man reached out to your correspondent, even as a boy in shorts, as an equal, leaving an indelible impression that lingers on today.
Patrick Leigh Fermor is a classic of its kind. As a depiction of a literary showman, who stemmed from humble beginnings, but rose to military, literary and social fame, it can hardly be bettered, even in “proof”; but as the biography of one crackerjack author by another, this book will prove definitive.
Click on book jackets for Nicholas’ reviews.