Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh-Fermor

Recently I finished reading The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh-Fermor, the third in his travel sequence describing his walk from London to Istanbul in the 1930s.  I have read the two previous books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the WaterThe Broken Road was published posthumously from an unfinished manuscript, and has an unpolished feel - as if a beautiful veneer casing had been left of a clock so that you could see the mechanism and how it all fits together.

All the usual Leigh-Fermor elements are in the book.  Highly picaresque, he is one moment camping with peasants in a cave huddled in with their animals, the next hob-nobbing with the diplomatic elite of Bucharest.  Effortlessly he charms people - Bulgarian nationalist youths, assorted monks in Mount Athos, German-trained middle-aged chatelaines of deserted hotels.

But for me the charm no longer worked.

I first read A Time of Gifts when I was 19, the age Patrick Leigh-Fermor was when he started his walk.  It completely captivated me, and the romance and adventure of the book seemed overwhelming.  It even inspired me to make a similar journey (but by rail, and disastrously I only got as far as Munich). 

Reading The Broken Road I felt I was just listening to another posh boy who has had his path in life smoothed for him.  The money arriving at regular intervals, the letters of introduction to the highest in every land he passes through, the incredible self-confidence he displays.  And I felt that if I were to meet the 19-year-old Patrick Leigh-Fermor I would dislike him intensely.

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