29 November 2012 9:00 AM, PST | The Guardian - Film News | See recent The Guardian - Film News news »

An absorbing portrait of Patrick Leigh Fermor found the man behind the myth, while Edna O'Brien's perfect memoir cherished her many lives and loves

The outstanding achievement in literary biography this year was Artemis Cooper's Patrick Leigh Fermor (Murray £25). Like Dickens (whose life as told by Claire Tomalin was a highlight of 2011), Paddy Leigh Fermor lived life to the limit. Before he was 30, he had not only walked from London to Constantinople, but had fallen in love with a Romanian princess and, famously, abducted a German general in the battle for Crete. Leigh Fermor is a colourful and romantic proposition, but how do you write about a man who has already been mythologised in bestsellers such as Ill Met By Moonlight? Cooper's answer is to find the man behind the myth in a sharp, absorbing portrait of the scholar-gypsy. I was particularly grateful for the news that, until well into old age, »

- Robert McCrum

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