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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on 23 January 2013
I really wanted to find out more about Patrick Leigh Fermor. Everyone seems to have liked him and found him jolly good company. The book tells his life as it is and I am afraid I did not grow to like him. He was a sponger, a womaniser, self centred and very cruel to his eventual wife. The book takes you through all his travels and the people he had met/scrounged off. I found it very hard to take in all the people and places he visited and revisited. His Greek adventure capturing the general showed that he had metal, but I put that down to a jolly jape by a young man. It could have gone very wrong. If I could award this 3 1/2 stars I would, it was not quite good enough for four. Having said that I am pleased I read the book, it whiled away a couple of days while I lay in bed with the flu so I read it in one hit.
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VINE VOICEon 31 January 2016
I’ve reviewed virtually all of his books and, although I had minor reservations about ‘Marni’ and ‘Roumeli’, thoroughly enjoyed them, including both ‘The Travellers Tree’ (…voodoo and the Caribbean…) and 'The Violins of Saint Jacques', the only fiction he wrote (…brilliant…) and apparently adapted as an opera…

Artemis Cooper has taken on a Herculean task, painting a brilliant word picture starting with PLF’s difficult relationship with his parents (it was apparently like living with a boisterous puppy) and his problems at school. The outcome was his decision to walk, in 1933 and at the age of 18, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (he uses the old name of Istanbul) living on a budget of £1 a week.

For the duration of ‘A Time of Gifts’ and ‘Between the Woods and the Water’ Artemis is effectively at his shoulder, clarifying points of detail about the people he meets and the places he visits. It’s made more fascinating by the fact that the scourge of Nazi Germany is descending inexorably across Europe and the Jewish population of those countries. The place names and the borders between countries are those of the 1930s and can be slightly confusing; I was also surprised at the number of people with double-barrelled surnames.

‘Between the Woods and the Water’ ends with the enigmatic comment ‘To Be Concluded‘, at the point where the Danube forms the boundary between Romania and Yugoslavia. The material for ‘The Broken Road’, the final part of the journey comes from many sources including a manuscript discovered in 2008 and written sometime between 1963 and 1964. In 1965 he visited Romania and again met with Princess Balasha Cantacuzene. Although they hadn’t met since he left for the war in 1939, she had kept his diary of the final part of his walk; for some reason, it was never fully collated with the subsequent manuscript.

Artemis tells how, in the early 1970s, PLF returned to what he described as ‘The Great Trudge’, trying several times to complete the manuscript but, on his death in 2011 and based partly on that incomplete manuscript of the final part of the narrative plus her earlier discussions with the now-elderly PLF, she took up the challenge of writing the concluding story of his walk. I found it virtually impossible to distinguish between her style of writing and that of PLF himself.

‘The Broken Road’ (he never actually entered Constantinople) also gives a lot of background to ‘Marni’ and ‘Roumeli’ plus details – Artemis is very circumspect – of PLF’s subsequent sojourn in monastic retreats in both Greece and elsewhere. She also brings to life the story of his wartime SOE life with the Cretan resistance and, along with Billy Moss, his successful abduction of the German General Kreipe (made into the film ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’ starring Dirk Bogart). Dressed in German uniforms, and with the General stuffed in the back of his own staff car, they bluffed their way through a number of checkpoints: it was fortunately dark since Billy was wearing puttees – something no one in the German army had worn since World War I…

Although there were many women in his life PLF married just the once, to Joan Rayner in 1968; they spent much of the following years at the house they built just outside Kardamyli on the Marni Peninsula.

It’s an absorbing story and an invaluable backdrop to Paddy’s books filling in a lot of detail about a unique and fascinating individual accurately described by a BBC journalist as a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Green.
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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.
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on 15 February 2013
I discovered PLF's books when I was living in Greece, and I thought them wonderful. Perhaps I should have left it at that. The deeper I got into this biography, the less I liked the man. The appalling visit to Somerset Maugham, which could have come straight out of 'Lucky Jim', ends with Maugham summarising him as "that middle-class gigolo for upper-class women". That pretty much nails it.

The book is clearly well researched, and Artemis Cooper manages not to gloss over the less attractive aspects of Leigh Fermor. A few more dates would have helped, though, as I could never work out what year we were in. (And when, after 30-odd pages with no mention of the year, I discovered that we had actually moved on 8 years or so, it merely underlined the fact that PLF never seemed to grow up.)

I'm off to read 'Mani' again now, to see if I can rediscover the old magic and forget the tarnish.
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on 20 November 2012
This official biography, which is based on Leigh Fermor's papers and the recollections of friends, is clearly written and accessible. In places - notably the familiar story of the kidnapping of General Kreipe, the book comes to life but elsewhere it is often irredeemably dull. There is insufficient humour and the author gives too many lists of friends and acquaintances, often without any explanation of their significance.

Another Amazon reviewer has pointed to the fact that coverage of the latter part of his life is too compressed and I was disappointed that Artemis Cooper did not really capture the essence of the Mani or what it meant to her subject. This is relatively little about how Leigh Fermor worked as an author in producing his two most important books - Mani and Roumeli.

The author presents a sympathetic portrait of Leigh Fermor but no real analysis although it is clear from her evidence that he had serious character flaws as well as considerable strengths. The fact that he devoted so much energy to feeding his own oversize ego - as well as being more than happy to live at the expense of others for most of his life - throws more light on his character than his biographer is prepared to admit.
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