An Affair to Misremember by Jeremy Lewis

Jeremy Lewis

An Affair to Misremember

 

Ever since the first volume appeared in 1977, people have been divided over Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy in which he describes how, as a very young man, he trudged from Rotterdam to Istanbul. His admirers (of whom I am one) delighted in his ornate prose and his magical evocations of ochre-coloured country houses in Mitteleuropa; his detractors claimed it was absurd and impossible for a man in his sixties and seventies to recall in such minute detail the events of half a century before and that the whole thing was, in effect, a charade. It took a cool-headed biographer to sort things out. Artemis Cooper was a close friend of Leigh Fermor, but she had no qualms about showing how her hero – like so many other writers of memoirs and travel books – had misremembered, embellished, conflated and invented in order to achieve his ends.

All this provided a useful demonstration of the difference between biography and autobiography (of which travel books are a distinguished sub-category). I have published four biographies (with a fifth in the pipeline) and three volumes of memoirs, and I am increasingly convinced that although laymen often confuse them – ‘So

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