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