by Patrick Leigh Fermor
One of the finest prose stylists I’ve ever read, although it is very rich stuff. Best to pack all twenty volumes of the OED in your knapsack if you want to read this on the subway and fully appreciate the breadth and zest.
One of my favorite parts was the description of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague beginning as he enters the building: “The last of the congregation were emerging to a fickle momentary sunlight. Indoors, the aftermath of incense, as one might say with a lisp, still floated among the clustered piers. Ensconced in their distant stalls, an antiphonal rearguard of canons was intoning Nones.” It goes on for five or six pages of sentences and phrases of playful exuberance that narrowly and sharply abut equally many of solemn elegance and poetry. In all, Fermor’s joyful linguistic lubricity rises but never disturbs his soaring genius for aphoristic and sensual description. It’s technicolor prose, really. There’s a lot in this book.
Another favorite line, reported from his soon-to-be-saccharine-smuggling friend Konrad upon returning to their hostel in Vienna late at night after a short day of cold-call nobility portrait sketching and a long evening involving a few too many tulip-shaped glasses of Himbeergeist, which led to their tiptoeing trippingly and noisily down a long row of beds of sleeping wayfarers until one woke up and started shouting and cursing. ‘Konrad sat down on the edge of his cot, murmuring as he unlaced his boots: “He was chafed by mishap, and choler unsealed their lips.”‘
Konrad spoke English with eccentric and archaic flare. I love that line.
Thanks, NYRB Classics for bringing us back another glorious tome.