on 9 January 2014
A book so many people have longed for and for so long. Despite it's patchwork origins it is not a disappointment. There is deep satisfaction in seeing the great - blocked - perfectionist - PLF wrestling with his layers of memories and communing with his many selves. The book is as enchanting and beautifully written as its two predecessors. It displays the same flashes of writerly brilliance but with maturity has come an appealing touch of what might almost be called humility. Last glimpses of a lost European world and of the kind of youth that will never be again.
on 6 November 2013
This is the long awaited third part of the trilogy describing PLF's journey on foot from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (Istanbul) in the mid-1930s. It describes a world of peasants and fishermen, of diplomats and of the descendants of the Byzantine Emperors all with equal charm and insight into their worlds.
PLF did not live to finish the story. This was in part due to the fact that some of his diaries were lost. His literary executors, Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper, took his drafts and working from there reconstructed as much as they could of the story of the last stage. In addition they have included his record, lacking in parts, of a visit to the monasteries of Mount Athos that he made some time after he reached Constantinople. The last days of the journey there remain lost, at least for the present.
The result is as they admit not quite in the style of the earlier two books but nonetheless will enthral and enchant.
For the many who had read the first two volumes, "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water" this long-awaited final volume (over thirty years in the waiting) is probably the publishing event of 2013.
on 21 June 2014
It is a trifle broken-backed as PLF didn't have any notes remaining of Constantinople: rather sad because that was the initial object of the journey but, by the time you get to this book, it is clear that the journey is itself the object. There are a couple of places where the prose takes a dip, these arrest the flow of the narrative. I felt that it would have been better if Artemis Cooper had interpolated more so that some of the lacunae could have been filled in. Perhaps this wasn't possible if PLF had totally forgotten and couldn't be questioned. The section on Athos was very well done: not in the league of Byron but then who is?
Altogether, a pleasant read from someone who comes across as a engaging personality, but not in the same league as "Between the woods & the water" as an invocation of a lost world. Still, without this having been written, I would have been forever wondering how he got to the end.
on 18 October 2013
I have read the other two books in the trilogy and most of PLF's other books so I expected to thoroughly enjoy reading the last book in the trilogy. It must have beeen a difficult task for Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron to complete the editing but I am impressed with the finished result. As they say "it contains, at least, the shape and scent of the promised book".
on 6 December 2013
This is the last and long-awaited part of PLF's travelogue begun in A Time of Gifts and continued in Between the Woods and the Water. Edited by his litererary executors Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron from a combination of drafts discovered at his publishers and his own extensively re-written notes, left uncompleted at the time of his death, the story covers the last leg of the journey in his own inimitable style, but unaccountably peters out when journey's end is in sight at Constantinople (Istanbul), so we will never know what he got up to there.... It is rounded off by a coda about a journey around the Greek Orthodox monasteries of Mount Athos which PLF undertook later, foreshadowing the fascination with Greece and its peoples which lasted the rest of his life. Cooper and Thubron should be proud of producing a work celebrating the author and completing his journey.
on 7 June 2015
Well, it's over, and we can let Patrick Leigh Fermor depart in peace. I had re-read the books, but it was ten years ago, and it was a bit of shock returning to Leigh Fermor after so long. I loved the first two books, and these are different. What was fascinating was the "Green Diary" excerpt at the end, the contemporary diary of his trip to Mount Athos, directly after he reached Constantinople. When you see this, the raw material, and you read what obtained once he had re-written, you can see why it took him so long.
It took me a while to get into this, and I wondered what had changed. Are we less tolerant of this sort of prose than we were in the 80s? Has time made us a bit more cynical about the lost era that he defined? Or am I just older and more cynical than when I first read these books? I'm not going to answer these questions, but what's interesting about this book is that it also touches on these questions. There is an interesting discussion about what he remembers from the actual journey, and what he remembers from subsequent visits. There is also an interesting side discussion of his parents, and his feelings on receiving letters from them. He is clearly tempted to talk about what happened later, but he doesn't.
It's also clear how much his prose style developed - the "Green Diary" seems jejune by comparison with his rewriting, but then, it was written when he was barely 20, and he had a lot to learn. His prose style is so wonderful, you understand how much work it took him to re-write, to reach the quality that he wanted, and then to dial it back so that there is coffee along with the whipped cream. You can see the work that it took to make it seem effortless. But I shall be coming back and coming back to this.
on 14 February 2014
The road in the title is that taken by Patrick Leigh Fermor in the third leg of his `Great Trudge' made as a young man in the 1930s. His travels take him from the Iron Gates and through Bulgaria, with a diversion back into Romania and Bucharest, then onwards along the coast of the Black Sea. The road breaks - in a literary sense - somewhere just before Constantinople/Istanbul, and is resumed with a tour of Mount Athos.
The book is classic Patrick Leigh Fermor, describing a polymath's perambulations through two fascinating countries that are likely to be less known to the majority of readers than those in the previous volumes. This very readable account is rich with characters, history, nature, landscape - and contrasts and connections between all these. The reader is taken to moonlit monasteries, through twisty cobbled lanes, across lonely plains and to slightly louche cafes.
The writer's adventures are varied and colourful: dressing up in Byronic costumes with a very bright and beautiful girl student, being taken in almost as a mascot by the ladies in a house of ill-repute, and the last chapter of the main book, which falls under the heading of "you couldn't make it up!" Here, our hero faces a moment of great peril as he falls into the sea, but finds his (dancing) feet again in a cave full of sailors and shepherds.
Perhaps not quite so glittering as the two previous volumes, and with rather more comment about what happened in the interim between the journey and the writing, the style is nevertheless a multi-textural parade of impressions, memories, history and ideas. Normally lists are seen to be a lazy way of writing, but what a picture of the Orient Express this one conveys:
"The necklace of bright lights dwindled in the distance with its freight of runaway lovers, cabaret girls, Knights of Malta, vamps, acrobats, smugglers, papal nuncios, private detectives, lecturers in the future of the novel, millionaires, arms manufacturers, irrigation experts and spies, leaving a mournful silence in the thirsty Rumelian plateau."
The Coda relating to PLF's time on Mount Athos is taken direct from his diary, with very little editing. It describes the 19-year-old's trek from one monastery to the next, armed with copies of Byron and Housman. His account of meetings with the various monks - invariably described as "splendid chaps" - bubbles with youthful enthusiasm and curiosity, and is a joy to read.
The literary executors and editors, Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron, have done a fine job in bringing the completion of Patrick Leigh Fermor's Youthful Journey to his readers.
on 12 November 2013
Some books are so beautiful that one's reading pace is slowed to make the pleasure last the longer. One such book, The Broken Road, stands alone from the rest of Patrick Leigh Fermor's work, and Paddy hesitated to finish it not slowed by pleasure but by the enormity of working with seven decades of memory. Paddy's other work I have read often, at least twice, given to pausing by the sheer density of the material. This book is different. The scholarship, the elegant turn of phrase, the crafted picture be it of scene or character, yes all is here as always, but now includes so much of Paddy that, although it may be unintentional both on the part of Paddy and of his brilliant editors, Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron, the reader is 'taken up' (to use Paddy's own phrase) by the author to walk each step with him.
One senses the excitement of the contrasting cities of architectural elegance or aged and strange curiosities, the challenge of untamed plains and glorious mountains, the beauty of a Europe pre-WW2, pre-communist restrictions, then one feels the depression of storms and soggy valleys, challenging mountain passes and a billet in a peasant's hovel. The chance encounter of Paddy, Greek fishermen and Bulgarian shepherds and the ensuing party and dancing in a vast cave is a classic. This is Europe but one few have experienced, and although I could say happily history has left a Rumania and Bulgaria in part still recognisable from PLF's talented description it is in reality a world which was thought vanished and which lives again through these pages.
The book is in two distinct parts, the larger part drawn PLF's memories, although he had been reunited with his Green Diary and he had already written "A Youthful Journey", the building blocks for The Broken Road, they were never collated together by the author or by his editors. The raison d'ȇtre for the walk to reach Constantinople (never Istanbul) from the Hook of Holland was achieved but curiously Paddy's thoughts on reaching his goal were scarcely recorded. The epilogue, so to speak, is a word for word inclusion of a diary written as he walked between monasteries on Mount Athos in the depths of winter. This last masterpiece has less descriptive prose, undoubtedly that would have been achieved had Paddy had the strength to complete the work to his satisfaction; as a woman I would have loved more intricate detail on the frescoes and architecture of the monasteries; but given this diary was never intended for publication the chapter is a gem.
on 16 April 2015
Like many other readers I have been looking forward to the third volume of PLF's "Walking to Constantinople" trilogy for nearly 30 years. As it became clear that it was not ready for publication, and would not be published in his lifetime, I rather despaired of it. The fact that it was finally put together by two editors from Paddy's notes, a partly written memoir, and a diary did not seem propitious. However either the editors or the notes were brilliant (probably both), as the voice and style exactly match the previous two volumes. Apart from the fact that it ends in mid-sentence, a few miles from the Turkish border, you wouldn't know from reading it that it had struggled to be put together. I am giving it four stars, while I would give the first two books five, because for all its merits it doesn't quite possess the interest of its predecessors in terms of their portrait of a continent on the brink of catastrophic change, change which would sweep away many of the colourful characters Paddy encountered. I also found the final section, on Mount Athos, disappointing. Technically it is extraneous, as it takes place after Paddy (still only 19!) has reached Istanbul. The contemplative life is not as fascinating to me as it evidently was to Paddy - for me it was just one damned monastery after another! I suppose if you look on this section as an "extra", then you shouldn't be criticise the book on this account.
on 10 December 2013
Every fan of Patrick Leigh Fermor has waited patiently for his conclusion of the monumental walk he made in 1936/37 at the age of 18. He passed away in his Greek home near Kalamata a few years ago in his late 90's so we thought he had not finished the third and final part of his travelogue. Well it turns out that he had left a pile of messy notes "hidden" in his home library which contained a very detailed picture of the last episodes of his juvenile hike through to Turkey and on to Mount Athos in Salonika.
I have only read the first 50 pages so far but I am delighted to say the words are distinctively "his" although it has taken a great deal of work by the sub-authors to make it scan for us. I am not rushing this book but reading it at about his walking pace. It is great to hear "Paddy" again. He had a delightful way with words in print and as a raconteur. With luck, we should still be able to hear him on the BBC I player, perhaps from an episode from Radio 3 Private Passions which was recorded about 10 years ago. Catch it if you can.
If you have not read any of his books before you could start with Words of Mercury which includes selected individual Chapters from most of his previous publications. Otherwise, you could read the two earlier books in this (now) trilogy. Between the Woods and The Water and A Time of Gifts. I am sure you will enjoy anything he wrote.