9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 12 September 2013
This is a diligent but sometimes flat portrayal of a great artist and greater character, with much on how and where he lived but long stretches without enough on why. Its the opposite of a hatchet job - I loved him just as much at the end as I did before reading the book. Part of the problem with the book is that Cooper is such a howling name dropper, with dozens of names she wouldn't/couldn't omit for whatever reasons when working with all that material. PLF was a name dropper too of course but he transcended all of that by his unbelievable curiosity and his personal courage. There is far too much about Buffy and Binky and Bipsy & agreeable weekends of charades in palaces, and far too little about his inner imaginative life. I did wonder if the core relationship with Joan and their decision (was it a decision?) not to have a family was important - were there a pile of regrets that held him back from writing more?
The fact that he was a bit of a rotter is not a problem at all - of course he was. That he could at times be very insensitive to his surroundings is intriguing and I think the author could have dug away at that more. But when its good its a wonderful book - she tells the same stories as PLF but unpicks the way the stories evolved. Whats actually quite thrilling is how much the stories were indeed true and the book closes on that lovely note. I had previously had a suspicion he might be a bit like David Niven who was obviously much loved and wanted to entertain everyone, but was it seems incapable of telling the truth, or a tale the same way twice. PLF's own books tried to pick that point up by having a dialogue between his young and adult selves but I must confess I was a bit worried the written record would prove to be a series of over-embroidered fantasies. Not a bit of it; though some embroidering went on the reality was often far stranger.
His knowledge and the way he acquired it was magnificently haphazard. He was a brave & funny man, a loyal friend, an adornment to Greece and England, and a thrilling unique writer who had led me into so many enchanting areas of literature. He was adored and quite right too.
61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2012
Patrick Leigh Fermor free-loaded, partied, drank and bonked his way around the world at least twice over in his long and eventful lifetime - and, while he wasn't doing that, wrote travel books that have entranced and inspired readers over half a century. I haven't read all his books yet, but the two I have read, 'A Time of Gifts' and 'Between the Woods and the Water' utterly enchanted me with a profound and lasting effect.
In retrospect, maybe it was inevitable that this biography would be a let-down, but I have seldom looked forward to a book so much - and I so wanted to love this book.
Some of my disappointment does come from the character of PLF, as portrayed in the biography, which is hardly the fault of the author, I know. He does tend to come across as the original couch-surfer, free-loading his way from one bed to the next. I did wonder if, these days, his exploits would be twittered and Facebooked for all to see, warts/crabs and all - and realised that, in an old-fashioned way, I prefer my heroes to maintain some aura of mystery.
But beyond the slight disillusionment with its subject, I found the biography curiously flat and somehow lacking in life and sparkle. It is peppered with names of people and places, but most of these didn't take on any life or meaning for me. I realised that the book was meticulously researched and have every admiration for the author in this respect. But perhaps leaving out some of the bit parts and places and concentrating on fewer characters and incidents would have made for a more satisfying and insightful account of a man who was clearly a complex character.
There were some chapters where the story came alive, though - the abduction of General Kreipe in Crete and the travels in the Caribbean, for example - I only wished that the rest of the book could have held my attention in this way.
I accept that this may be a minority view, given that the other reviews here are generally more positive - but I don't regret having read this biography and it has certainly kindled my interest in reading more of Patrick Leigh Fermor's books now that I know more about their background.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2013
I admire Artemis Cooper as a writer, and have so far enjoyed and appreciated all of her published work.
But I am with those who say that there is not enough objectivity in this biography. It must of course have helped that PLF was a close friend of the authoress's family, but this may also have caused her to pull her punches.
There is an awful lot of reverence and love for PLF reflected here. But for all that, he was a flawed and evidently complex man. It would therefore have been far more interesting, if not essential, to have had more reflection here of the views of those who were not enamoured of PLF and his behaviour. His relationship with his wife - surely more complex and unorthodox even than those relationships in his social set - deserves more and deeper analysis and the authoress's own interpretation. The same could be said of the many love (whatever that may be, in the case of PLF) affairs he had. It is surely inconceivable that some of the women concerned would have come away unhurt. In this context, the closest we have to understanding something of his behaviour and its consequences is in PLF's treatment of Lyndall Hopkinson, and her response to PLF's failure to communicate with her when they parted. Do his apology to her and reasons for not corresponding really stack up? How could he have imagined any other response, unless he was so used to getting away with such behaviour? Leaving aside the much quoted Somerset Maugham view of PLF and possibly the views of those who were envious of PLF, there must surely have been some men who had more objective, views of him. Was there really no way of unearthing them?
Is it an excuse that men of PLF's generation were unforthcoming about their feelings and personal responses? No, there are several examples of biographies of men of the same or earlier generations where biographers have toiled beyond information that was readily available, e.g.Nigel Hamilton on Lord Montgomery of Alamein.
All of which leaves this authorised biography wanting.
88 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on 16 October 2012
In less steady hands, this could have so easily become a sychophantic homage to a revered subject and it would be all the weaker for it. While clearly admiring her subject Artemis Cooper also recognizes that Patrick Leigh Fermor was not everyone's "cup of tea", and recounts many hilarious anecdotes that serve to humanize him. I particularly like the cringe-worthy meeting with Somerset Maughn, as well as the impetuous decision to observe one of the Greek civil wars on a borrowed horse. the book dispels many of the myths surrounding him and will undoubtedly form the base for a lot of scholarly analysis of a fascinating life. The portrayal of PLF's wife Joan and his close friend Xan Fielding also come to life in Cooper's writing.
I am an unabashed fan of the subject, Like a lot of Fermor's books I'm sure I will take pleasure inre-reading this . I also sincerely hope that the success of this book leads to a reprint or "kindlizing" of Cooper's book, Cairo during the War - which deserves a retread.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2013
PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR;AN ADVENTURE I saw this man, in Dumbledon, the day before he died-wheelchair, sick, a last look round.
The biography is detailed, painstaking, careful, much fact ,too little interpretation or comment. A hero,yes,undoubtedly.A selfish charmer? A middle class gigolo for upper class women, as divined by Somerset Maugham? A rather good travel writer-there is not enough on this? He was an interesting fellow, and the book is big on facts, shorter on the effects that he had on people.His selfishness must have had its consequences. In particular,the opinions of his many women are largely omitted,
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2012
A beautifully crafted biography about a brilliant but flawed man, loved by many and justly remembered for his enchanting books. It is written with refreshing honesty about his failings but provides the background to this colourful life and personal understanding of his immense charm. One review I read disparaged PLF as a sponger who never really grew up, but this misses the point of the man entirely - people were clearly captivated by his passionate interest in everything and boundless curiosity about people and languages, and who (although at times exasperating and impossible) inspired great devotion from many. This is a sympathetic portrayal of a member of a fading generation who lived life to the full, and fought a hard and bloody war at great personal cost. I absolutely loved it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 August 2013
This well written book should be read in three parts. The first part - covering paddy's early life and his walk across Europe and his wartime escapades - are fascinating and deserve everyone's admiration. The second part - effectively covering the twenty years after the second world war- is less edifying and SM's somewhat unkind description of Paddy as "a middle class gigolo for upper class women" does have a large slice of truth. Indeed it is hard to think of Paddy surviving during this period without the incredible support, understanding and generous nature of Joan, his eventual wife. In the third part paddy finally gets his act together and writes what is generally regarded as some of the best travel literature of the twentieth century. A fascinating flawed character which the author evenly portrays, warts and all. I suspect most women would have found Paddy in his prime irresistible. A lot of men, however, would, I suspect, have found him good company for a weekend but perhaps a bit much for a full week - but what a weekend.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 2013
Leigh Fermor, often billed as 'the greatest travel writer of the 20th century', seems to have led a charmed life: war hero, feted writer, inexhaustible traveller. But Artemis Cooper's biography balances all this, to some extent, with a slightly darker side; his depression, his difficult family relationships and the final sadness of being 'blocked' and not properly completing the account of his youthful 1930s journey on foot from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, most of which was so brilliantly recalled in 'A Time of Gifts' and 'Between the Woods and the Water'. Despite this balancing, though, there were lots of things that still appeared as hidden, such as: exactly how did PLF develop as a writer (he seems always to have been busy with lots of other things)?; and how, from a relatively modest background, did he end up cavorting with the very upper class of post- war Britain?
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 30 October 2012
Not exactly a critic's title and, yet, this biography really is such a good read. Artemis Cooper's style is as good as her husband's; I really cannot fault it. What did seem somewhat odd is that Leigh Fermor's latter years really were compressed into a few pages; was this necessary? So many possible 'takes' on this biography; for example, what a superb way to add to the enjoyment of reading 'In Tearing Haste'. Alternatively, how can so many mutual friends of James Lees-Milne be mentioned with no joint encounter? In the end, I did just wonder if some 'gems' had been left out - because of individuals still living or some other reason.
Amazingly, or possibly not as this is the Rolls-Royce of publishers (Lees-Milne attribution), I could find only one typo in the entire volume. Dorrien-Smith or Smith-Dorrien? It only appears once in the former style and I just wondered because the Tresco lessee is the former version which makes me wonder which is the correct style.
Several other books were put aside to read this over several nights and it's hard to believe others will not end up doing the same.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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.