This review of the third part of Travellers’ century by the always entertaining TV critic Nancy Banks-Smith deftly sketches the charismatic character and life of Patrick Leigh Fermor (although it isn’t true that he wrote A time of gifts and Between the woods and the water entirely from memory fifty years after the journey across Europe that the books recount). But she omits any mention of the key moment for anyone who has read both books, kept back by presenter Benedict Allen until last – the moment when he braves asking the 93 year old author how he is getting on with the final part of the trilogy. It was heart-sinking but not entirely surprising to hear him reply that it was about half-done; at which rate – given that the second part was published in 1986 – he will have to retain both his breath and his marbles until he is 115.
It was time to admit what PLF admirers have no doubt long since guessed – that his publisher will offer us an unfinished draft only after he is gone, assuming he hasn’t left Larkinesque instructions to burn everything. Unless, that is, the complete draft that he professed in the programme to have slashed remains extant and salvageable. His severe estimation of his own work suggests that this version wouldn’t be far-off the previous parts in terms of crystalline lucidity. Hope springs eternal – and in its ongoing absence, there are always Mani and Roumeli, his books about Greece, strangely overlooked by Benedict Allen.