Words of Mercury by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Artemis Cooper (ed) - review by Jeremy Lewis

Jeremy Lewis

Well Met By Moonlight

Words of Mercury


John Murray 261pp £20 order from our bookshop

SEVENTY YEARS AGO, at the age of eighteen, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out to walk from Rotterdam to fstanbul, equipped - like a latter-day medieval pilgrim - with staff, sketchbook and rucksack, as well as a surprisingly useful understanding of Latin, a flair for more up-to-date languages, a seemingly insatiable curiosity and a vast store of arcane knowledge ranging from the Ostrogoths to the Uniat Church, altogether unexpected in a boy whose school record had been poor, and who had eventually been expelled from King's School, Canterbury. In 1977 he published A Time of Gifts, which took him as far as Budapest, via Holland, Nazi Germany and Austria; this was followed, nine years later, by the even more magical Between the Woods and the Water, in which he covered a shorter distance, through Hungary, its lost province of Transylvania, and into Romania, but lingered (all too agreeably) in the ochre-coloured, book-lined country houses of Mitteleuropa, sampling the tail end of a languid, urbane and anglophile way of life that would soon be swept away for ever.

A few carping, puritanical spirits, irritated perhaps by the richness of Leigh Fermor's prose and the unabashed enthusiasm with which he displayed his knowledge of history, architecture, religion and obscure Central European dialects, wondered how it was possible for anyone to remember, in such exact and compelling detail, the events

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter