It hadn't occurred to me that both these two are of my parents' generation, both almost the exact age of my parents, uncles, aunts, who fought and lived through the war. Unlike most though, Patrick Leigh Fermor was a decorated war hero, having been involved in the kidnapping of a German General on the island of Crete in 1944, after having lived there undercover as a shepherd for 18 months. He was a remarkable man (he died last year) having walked from England to Constantinople during the years of 1933 to 1935 and written two books about it, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, two of the most loved travel books of all time.
He met Deborah Devonshire at one of her husband, Andrew's, family homes, Lismore in Ireland. He was invited to stay and he and Debo consequently became lifelong friends. He was also great friends with two of her five sisters (the famous Mitford sisters), Nancy and Diana, and wrote to them too I gather. It makes you feel a bit sad that the age of letter writing has more or less died out and made way for the age of e.mails. Not quite as romantic.
It's hard to know exactly what to say about this book. It's basically a book of fascinating letters between two very dear friends, some of them brief and hurried - thus the title of the book - and some of them very detailed indeed. Debo describes life at Chatsworth, the doings of mutual friends she's met up with, some of the grand events or dinners she has to attend, the people she met, and so forth. Patrick is living in Greece with his wife, Joan, and describes the idyllic spot on the coast where they built a house. He also does quite a lot of travelling around Europe and for fans of his travel books the letters that go deeply into those trips are absolute gems. His writing is glorious, especially when detailing the mountain climbs he does with small groups, usually including Debo's husband, Andrew... places like the Pyrenees, the mountains of northern Greece, the Balkans.
I was particularly enamoured of a section where Patrick describes life on a film set. He was in the Alps with the filming of the book, Ill Met By Moonlight by W. Stanley Moss, about the group's exploits on Crete during the war. PLF was played by Dirk Bogarde who was nervous about meeting a real life person he was going to portray, but PLF describes the actor as 'Charming - slim, handsome, nice speaking-voice and manner, a super-gent.' But life on a film set did not appeal to Patrick and he bailed out of what he called the 'madhouse' after seven days. I'd have liked a bit more about that to be honest.
Towards the end of the book sadness starts to creep in as Debo and Paddy's family and close friends start to die off or become very ill. Debo in particular finds her friends' and family's serious illnesses distressing and no wonder. Patrick lost his wife, Joan, within a few weeks of the death of Debo's sister, Diana, and the awfullness for both of them is clear. Patrick describes how he is lingering in England after the funeral, dreading going back to the house he shared with Joan in Greece for over 50 years. It's very sad.
At the time the book was written both Debo and Patrick were still alive but Patrick sadly died in 2011 aged 96. I can only imagine how devastated Debo must have been to lose a lifelong friend, probably one of the only ones left of her generation.
Of course reading a book like this leaves you with a reading list. Debo famously hated books and read nothing if she could help it, but Patrick did read and there are all kinds of fascinating books mentioned; I'd like to read Ill Met by Moonlight now. Letters of Ann Fleming - by Mark Amory (she was Ian Fleming's wife) and A Crowd is Not Company by Robert Kee about his time in a POW camp in Germany during the war. And that's only three, there are many others mentioned in this amazing book of letters. And I absolutely 'must' get to PLF's Between the Woods and the Water... I've read A Time of Gifts and loved it. I also want to read his other books but In Tearing Haste is not a bad place to start if you've never read anything by him as it really does give you a flavour of his extraordinary writing. I'm also eager to read more books of letters so if anyone has any recs they would be gratefully received.
Off to library in a moment and hoping to find something else connected with these amazing people.