The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

A customer with whom I used to work in another bookshop...

 - Tuesday, November 05, 2013

A customer with whom I used to work in another bookshop, brought a book to my attention which I recognised immediately by the cover image before I even saw author or title. It was the The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor —its cover matching the two previous books of his travels. This is the final part of the three volumes covering his walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. The first parts of this journey are covered in A Time of Gifts & Between the Woods & the Water. I have read these books many times, and I was thrilled to see this third volume. Broken Road was actually put together by Colin Thubron & Artemis Cooper, his literary executors, from notes he had been working on at the time of his death. Leigh Fermor was 18 in 1933 when he set out on his big adven- ture. The Time of Gifts covers the first part of his trek across Europe. His plan was to get away from his troubles (he had been expelled from his school) by taking to the road. Carrying little & living on about one pound a day, he slept in barns, hay- lofts & cheap hotels, consorting only 'with peasants & tramps'. This journey took him up the Rhine & down the Danube, covering the history & culture of a now vanished world. Along the way he visited the great cities of Hamburg, Munich, Vienna & Prague. His journey is continued in Between the Woods & the Water. After crossing the Danube, where the previous volume left off, he arrives at the Iron Gates in Romania, after going through Slovakia, Hungary & the now lost province of Transylvania. Again he meets a wonderful cast of characters whilst staying in cottages & castles. So onto the new volume, which I am absolutely loving. Between 1964 & 1965 Leigh Fermor started writing something he called A Youthful Journey. This forms the basis of The Broken Road, which takes him from The Iron Gates to Mount Athos. Leigh Fermor had also kept a 'Green Diary' & this, written at the time of the journey, not years later as with the two previous volumes, is what the story of his time on Mount Athos is based on. The authors say that it was always Greece that he wanted to reach, for although he did reach Constantinople, he wrote very little about it & its Byzantine or Ottoman splen- dour—after only eleven days he left for Greece. These books abound with Leigh Fermor's personality, his keen observational powers, his ability to make friends & feel at home wherever he finds himself. I must mention another of his books, A Time to Keep Silence. This I have also read many times. It tells of his several stays in some of Europe's oldest monasteries. He stays at St Wandrille, known for great art & learning, Solemnes, famous for its Gregorian chants, & at La Grande Trappe, where monks take a vow of silence. He also visits the rock monasteries of Cappadocia, seeking traces of the earliest Christian anchorites. More than a travel book, this is a meditation on the meaning of silence & solitude for a modern world. Then, lastly, there is the biography of Leigh Fermor by Artemis Cooper, who confessed that as a 37-year-old she fell in love with a man in his late eighties. William Dalrymple, another favourite of mine, says 'Cooper's book is the perfect memorial to this remarkable man'. Leigh Fermor's three books of travel are not his only claim to fame. On the outbreak of war he fought in Greece & Crete & was involved in the daring abduction of German general in 1944. Some time ago, I was staying with an old school friend, to whose mother I gave the two volumes of the travels to read. This she did with a big atlas on the table in front of her to trace Leigh Fermor's routes through the countries of Europe. She said she had a wonderful time, feeling herself his fellow traveller.

I will just mention a few books I have read & loved this year. Starting with Tell- ing the Bees—the story of a lonely, isolated man, his philosophy & his bees, and the trouble that ensues when he becomes involved with the women next door. I loved the description of the bees going about their very busy lives. Also, a book that has stayed with me is Maggie O'Farrell's The Vanishing Act of Esme Len- nox, a disturbing story in which the 'bad character', Esme, refuses to marry the man chosen for her, and is placed in a home, severed from all contact with her family. At the moment I am almost finished the latest O'Farrell, Instructions For A Heatwave (I do tend to read more than one book at a time ). The story of an Irish family living in London, which begins with the father going out to buy the paper & never returning home. It is 1976 & England is in the grip of a great drought & the heat & lack of rain, along with the shadow of IRA bombings af- fects the whole family. Something I found particularly disturbing is the inability of one of the daughters to read. I cannot for a moment imagine what this would be like.

I was looking forward to reading the latest Andrea Camillleri, The Treasure Hunt, featuring the wonderful Inspector Montalbano & picked it up with great glee when it arrived in store. It has the funniest (and most tragic) beginning of any of Camilleri's books & I actually laughed out loud at Montalbano, gun in hand, on a fire engine's ladder dodging bullets from the apartment above. Im- agine my disappointment, when not long into the book, I realised I'd seen it on DVD. This book was first published in 2010, but it has taken until now to become available in Australia. However, I have to say it is one of his best & I read it again, anyhow. These are great books to read over the holiday season—to take to the beach, or just sitting in your living room with a nice cool drink beside you. Happy holiday reading to all our Gleaner readers. Janice Wilder