Paddy Leigh Fermor is a biographer’s dream. There are the almost predictably rebellious school years, and the mammoth walk across pre-war Europe, from Holland to Istanbul (or Constantinople, as it was then known). There’s the action behind enemy lines in wartime Crete, where he kidnapped a German general, and of course, a career as one of the world’s most revered and imitated travel writers, with a beautiful, rarefied prose style and scintillating powers of description.
A lover, a fighter, and a formidable intellectual who could sing folk songs in eight languages, translate PG Wodehouse into Greek, and who swam the Hellespont in his 70th year – he was perhaps the ultimate renaissance man of his time – all of which is fairly well documented, not least in a string of bestselling books, and a plethora of glowing obituaries (he died just last year, aged 96).
Throw the matinée idol good looks and prodigious charm into the mix, and you have a truly formidable persona to bring to life.
It is entirely appropriate that a lifetime of such conspicuous achievement and renown, already so widely celebrated in print, in film and in legend, should be put into the hands of a worthy biographer, which is undeniably the case here.
The great achievement of Artemis Cooper in crafting this magnificent biography, is that she makes all of this fresh, showing the all-action hero in a new light and revealing the minutiae and frailties of his character so that this epic figure is not so much made clearer, but more vividly blurred.
This is an impeccably researched, affectionate and meticulous portrait of a fascinating and complex man, and that is why Artemis Cooper’s Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure is my book of the year.
Greg Eden, for Waterstones.com/blog
The Waterstones Book of the Year will be announced on November 29th. Find out more about the Waterstones Book of the Year shortlist here.
Have you already read Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure? What did you think of it? Is it your Book of the Year too? Let us know in the comments below.