Dashing for the Post: the Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Edited by Adam Sisman, John Murray, £30

The age of letter-writing is over. Few now enjoy or endure what Patrick Leigh Fermor calls “the agony of waiting for letters, and, when they arrive, the sudden bomb-like detonation of delight”.

“Paddy” lived a seemingly charmed life of adoring, and being adored by, a wide circle of friends and lovers. He wrote in torrents of affection to them from all of his natural habitats, whether a fishing village in Greece, the library of a country house the day after a riotous party, or a cell in an ancient monastery where he sometimes retired to in order to write.

Those who already know his life and works will find familiar traits in the letters: tremendous erudition, wanderlust, gregariousness, occasional melancholy, insatiable curiosity, epic procrastination, religious leanings, a gift for landing on his feet, high living and low morals.

In one letter, Paddy describes Sylvia Henley, a friend of Gertrude Bell’s, in words that might have been written about him: “an extraordinary mixture of guts, brains, humour and niceness too, and one can’t get better than that”. Countless purple passages, testament to his stupendous way with words and an all-seeing, deeply cultured eye, will both delight lovers of great travel books and seduce newcomers.

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