Perambulatory Christmas Books, part 4
By J. C.
While reading Artemis Cooper's biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor last weekend, we learned that in the early 1950s he interrupted work on his "Greek book" (which became Mani), to translate two novellas by Colette: Chambre d'hôtel and Julie de Carneilhan, published in one volume as Chance Acquaintances (Secker, 1952). Wouldn't it be fun to read them, we thought . . . .
to see how the unbridled Paddy pen took advantage of the well-behaved Gallic page? Without giving it another thought, we returned to Ms Cooper's affectionate biography.
The next day, we made for King Street, Hammersmith, from where word had reached us of a "not bad" shop, Books for Amnesty. The mission, you may recall, is to seek as a heartening alternative to vile Christmas giftbook fare a neglected work or curiosity by an established author, for about £5. Books for Amnesty is indeed not bad. There is a skippable fiction section, halfdecent assortments of poetry and "classics", and a large selection of LPs. A sales assistant was advising a customer that A Clockwork Orange was unavailable because "it was banned for so long", forcing us into a reluctant correction. On the classics shelves, our eye fell on four volumes from the Secker Uniform Edition of Colette. Surely it couldn't be? Chéri ... Claudine ... Gigi ... Chance Acquaintances! "Translated by Patrick Leigh Fermor." PLF complained to Diana Cooper that the job of correcting the proofs was "like some awful imposition at school". The gnarled opening sentences reflect his impatience: I did not acquire my habitual mistrust of nonentities over a period of years. Instinctively, I have always held them in contempt for clinging like limpets to any chance acquaintance more robust than themselves. It is only since I first encountered human barnacles that molluscs equipped with contractile nerve-cords have filled me with horror.
After that, the story, with Colette herself at the centre, goes smoothly. Ms Cooper says that Chance Acquaintances is not "considered among her best work", and PLF himself wrote: "I'm beginning to think she's fearful rot", but we enjoyed the charming title novella set in a mountain spa. How much of it is Colette and how much Paddy, we have not had time to ascertain but will make it the subject of a further report, unless someone enlightens us first. Books for Amnesty asked £3 for an appealing, pocket-sized hardback.
With a few pennies left in the kitty, we chose another book with a Fermor connection: Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary. The screenplay for the 1958 film by John Huston is PLF's work. When presented with the first draft, the producer Darryl Zanuck did not say, "It's fearful rot". He did say, "It's a whole heap of crap", as Paddy told Deborah Devonshire. Shooting took place in Cameroon.
The female lead was Juliette Gréco, with whom Paddy got on well: "wild, rather like a panther, with a tremendous sense of humour", he told the Duchess, adding, "I rather love Juliette Gréco". Doesn't everyone? In exchange for a solid orange Penguin (1960), Amnesty augmented its justice fund by a further £2.50. Ms Cooper's biography will be reviewed in a future issue.