Patrick Leigh Fermor is a novelist and travel writer most famous for his trilogy of travel writing that documents his walking tour of Europe from Holland to Istanbul, beginning with A Time of Gifts (1977). He wrote and published two of the books many years after his journeys, which occurred in the ’30s, based on his diaries. (Some of his diaries were lost, so some is uncanny recollection.) But the last instalment, The Broken Road, had to wait much longer – until 2013, and is unfinished (as diaries can often be described). I have made this journey out of sequence, starting with The Broken Road, but no matter, as each book is self-contained.
Fermor writes beautifully, romantically. The exotic (to him and me) locales mean that the writing must aspire to match them in luxury, grandeur and novelty. Every page contains inventive prose that froths and sparkles, although sometimes his verbosity tends to tautology – ’rounded convexities’. Because he is walking, there is an intimacy with the topography. There is also the sense of the eastern European countries he visits being completely foreign worlds, something surely depleted in our contemporary, globalised, internetted era. Regularly he stumbles on a farmhouse in the evening, where the inhabitants welcome him in, offering him local delicacies or, more often than not, rough peasant food that they are happy – culturally obliged, probably – to share, despite their tight circumstances. Otherwise he stumbles into the grand house of an English diplomat, starved of English conversation, who welcomes a fellow countryman. In tourist-saturated Europe one assumes this happens a lot less now.