Let­ters

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Dashing For the Post: The Let­ters of Pa­trick Leigh Fer­mor Se­lected and edited by Adam Sis­man (John Mur­ray, £30)

Oh joy! I had thought we’d reached the end of the road of de­light in PLF’S writ­ing with Artemis Cooper’s bi­og­ra­phy of 2012 and 2014’s The Bro­ken Road, the fi­nal vol­ume of his tril­ogy. his pre­vi­ous book of let­ters, In Tear­ing Haste—his cor­re­spon­dence with Debo Devon­shire, pub­lished in 2008—was a hi­lar­i­ous romp around the so­cial whirl in which he and the Duchess swanned their way.

Now, with this new col­lec­tion— some of the es­ti­mated 5,000– 10,000 let­ters he wrote dur­ing his life—the reader ac­tu­ally lives Paddy’s life with him: ex­pe­ri­ences not just the ex­u­ber­ance, the ad­ven­ture, the work and the play, but also the in­ner man, with all his self-doubt and pas­sion that filled ev­ery mo­ment. No other con­tem­po­rary writer could have given us so much to rel­ish and we’re for­tu­nate that Adam Sis­man has dis­tilled such a treat from so much rich ma­te­rial.

Many of these let­ters were writ­ten over the decade Paddy took to build his beloved house at Kar­damyli in Greece and there are en­thu­si­as­tic de­scrip­tions of its evo­lu­tion from the rough-hewn lo­cal lime­stone, with its ‘mix­ture of light grey, gold, pink and rus­set, won­der­fully har­mo­nious in jux­ta­po­si­tion’ and trel­lis pav­il­ion that ‘spreads a cool checky and lozenge car­pet of shade, like tar­tan un­der­foot, that turns dogs as they trot through into mo­men­tary leop­ards and bipeds into har­lequins’.

This kalei­do­scopic in­sight into Paddy’s glit­ter­ing, eru­dite world, most of whose per­sonae are now dead, of­fers an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity to glimpse be­hind the long-drawn cur­tain. It is also ex­cel­lently an­no­tated so as to nav­i­gate the reader through a wel­ter of ob­scure but fas­ci­nat­ing lit­er­ary ref­er­ences.

Through­out his life, Paddy made use of words, ex­pres­sions or al­lu­sions with a con­fi­dence that most of us just wouldn’t get away with. Who else, when look­ing out of a win­dow in Wales at a newly ar­rived flock of black sheep, would have had the self-as­sur­ance to de­scribe the rams as hav­ing ‘long twirling horns, the sort that Joshua used for bring­ing down the walls of Jeri­cho’?

Mostly, how­ever, it’s all just tremen­dous fun. Paddy’s joie de vivre bursts through on ev­ery page. The wit, the hu­mour and the daz­zling in­tel­li­gence make this, for me, the most un­put­down­able book of the year. Robin Han­bury-teni­son

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