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Overhyped & overwrought
on 19 July 2013
I've never been so disappointed at not enjoying a book - all the portents looked good - I had read about Leigh Fermor and was practically in love with him before starting this book. Coming from a similar family background - and like him being an insufferable teenage intellectual snob & auto-didact who spent hours reading about art & architecture & memorising poetry, I was sure it was going to be just my cup of tea. I'd even been to most of the places, for heaven's sake, and could conjure up the pictures and galleries so laboriously described.
So why did I not enjoy it? It was just too self-consciously clever and lyrical and so obviously not the work of the young man who set out. The section of his original (rediscovered) journal highlighted blindingly the difference between the fresher, more brisk prose of a 19 year old and the highly polished, contorted and effortful version that he spent so many years working up. He even managed to bring in his dining-out story about the German General in Crete (which it appears he trotted out so frequently that even his friends and admirers tired of it). I tried hard to like it, but kept flicking into my Kindle to see how many pages were left. It was quite a slight book, but it felt very long. I got increasingly irritated with his sense of entitlement, ability to swan into schlosses and houses all over the place, drink beer, converse (seemingly with ease) in a multiplicity of languages and despite his self-confessed snobbery, I also found his fascination with the Hapsburg nobility very tiresome. I only really woke up when I got to his meeting with "Pips" Schey (cue quick genealogical chit chat from L-F about their wealth and antiquity). I recognised the name at once from "The Hare with the Amber Eyes" and went back into that book to remind myself about a clearly very fascinating and charming individual- certainly Leigh Fermor was in total thrall to him and had a bit of a man-crush. Amusingly, L-F is afforded just one line in Edmund de Waal's compelling book - that he stayed at the castle with Baron Schey von Koromla. Unfortunately it reminded me just how much I had enjoyed that book, and to unseemly comparisons between the two. I had to really drag myself back. There were some enjoyable bits - largely descriptions of nature, but the whole was far less interesting and enjoyable than I was anticipating. I'm currently trying to work up the energy to read the second book. Trouble is, do I really care if he gets to Constantinople or not? Probably not a lot.