I read A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor and was so inspired by the experience that I went straight onto this biography. I already know that feeling inspired by "Paddy" (as everyone knew him) is a common reaction to his work and readers frequently become in thrall to this amazing man, as did most of those who met him in life.
On the off chance the name Patrick Leigh Fermor is new to you, as it was to me until recently, in addition to being one of the great prose writers of the 20th century, recounting his travels; he was a war hero; an open minded, charming companion; and he had an insatiable appetite for both learning and life.
Artemis Cooper has done a fine job of condensing a full and fascinating life into around 400 pages, and managing to provide sufficient focus to the key stories and also giving a good overview.
What comes across most clearly is Paddy's energy and restless spirit. His exuberance and lust for life charmed the majority of those he met but he was quite capable of being appallingly tactless too, as one memorable encounter with W Somerset Maugham amply illustrates.
What is even more remarkable is that he found a companion, and ultimately wife, Joan, and both were devoted to each other, despite their open relationship. As he was penniless for much of his life, she would occasionally hand him some cash at the end of dinner in case he needed to procure the services of a prostitute.Artemis Cooper doesn't dwell too much on this aspect of his life but does highlight Paddy's great loves, many of whom ran concurrently with his relationship with Joan. Paddy outlived Joan by a few years and was clearly lost without her despite friends rallying around him.
So, a fine biography of a remarkable man, and yet I still have a nagging feeling that his own writing gave me a better sense of Paddy the man than this biography. It's hard to say how or why. Anyhow that is not to detract from a wonderful book.
As Paddy wrote, hours before he died, and knowing the end was looming: "Love to all and kindness to all friends, and thank you for a life of great happiness". The perfect epitaph for a truly remarkable human being who is well served by this biography.