Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion & Anne Buist

published 2018

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Happy travellers outside the Cathedral at Santiago

[alternating narrators]

I walked the 21kms to Santillana del Mar on autopilot. Rain drizzled all day, and the path followed agricultural pipes painted with the ugly yellow arrows. All I was thinking about was how Two Steps forward 4to get back to England…

I dumped my gear at a painfully quaint hotel and found a sidreria – a cider house. Despite having drunk too much the previous night, I ordered a drink. Where was Dead Walker when I needed him? What would he have said? What would Zoe say? That I should look within? Christ.

But as I watched the bartenders doing irritating tricks with the cider for the tourists, I became conscious of how much my anger was clouding everything. Zoe was right. There were things I hadn’t dealt with.

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So began the last leg of my Camino: two weeks and a bit more than 120 miles. What had once seemed impossible to contemplate now seemed not worth worrying about. The coastal section of the walk had been lonely and, as if to mirror my emotional turmoil, the beauty of the ocean and the countryside had been slammed up hard against concrete and progress.

Now I was on the Primitivo, the most ancient Camino, where at times my feet would tread on the original stones of the path pilgrims had taken for a thousand years. I started feeling both humble and strong, in the company of good people.

commentary: Graeme Simsion lives in all our hearts for the two Rosie books – The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, both on the blog; I also very much enjoyed The Best of Adam Sharp last year. This new one is written jointly with his wife – it follows the story of a man and a woman, and the two authors may have written alternating chapters, as each POV follows on.

Martin and Zoe both end up walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, almost by accident, and the book tells their stories. The pilgrimage across northern Spain is becoming increasingly well-known and popular, with roughly a thousand people a day completing it in current times. Travellers are following a path that, as Zoe says above, has been used for a thousand years. You can start the pilgrimage wherever you want: that’s what defines your pilgrimage. These two both start out from central France, Cluny, which is a relatively long version. They do not walk together for most of the trip – they meet up and move apart on a regular basis and they have (slightly annoying) misunderstandings. Both have issues they are trying to work out: problems in the past, relationships with others. The walk gives them time to think.

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I loved the book: there was a way in which you knew what was going to happen (mud, bad weather, problems, joyous moments, spiritual wakefulness) but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable, and there were also surprises along the way: particularly the turn of fate for Martin and others in his final section of the pilgrimage. But it was joyous, charming, touching, and very obviously based on the reality of the walk, which the authors have done several times. As ever, Simsion is a clever, convincing writer, and so apparently is his wife.The book is full of jokes, stories, anecdotes and developments.

One member of my family has done the Camino many times and along many routes, and another member of my family once accompanied him. I am never likely to join them, ever, but having heard their travellers’ tales I feel I have a good amateur knowledge of the Camino. And so I very strongly recommend this book for anyone, but particularly for anyone who might be interested in doing the Camino, or just finding out more about it. And I will use up the rest of the space with these personal pictures from their journeys: with thanks as ever to TKR, the photographer.

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  1. What an interesting context for a story, Moira! I've heard of the Camino, but never done it myself, I can see how it would be a really effective sort of to tell stories of growth, personal adventure, and so on. Add in the 'travelogue' scenes, if that's the term, and I can see how this would work well. Glad you enjoyed it.

    1. Thanks Margot - it was a lovely read, funny and clever and sometimes unexpected. I am full of admiration for people who do walks like this one.

  2. The book sounds fascinating. I had not even heard of the Camino, so all new to me. I admire people who can (and want to) do a long walk like that, but it would not be for me.

    1. As you can tell, I loved it: but you would not need to know much about the Camino to enjoy it. There is a (fiction) film about a group of people doing the walk: it is called The Way and stars Martin Sheen, with one of his sons directing (and in a small role). It is quite Hollywoodish, tbh, but it is still very very good, and shows the beautiful landscape of the walk, and how it affects people.

  3. I loved the two Rosie books. Wish there were more. So this is fiction about the walk? I might try it. I liked the humor in the Rosie books, had me laughing constantly.

    1. Oh me too. This is a lovely book, though not as laugh out loud as Rosie.


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