Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Review: Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist

Husband and wife writing team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist's charming new novel Two Steps Forward was obviously meant for me right now. I had previously read and loved The Rosie Project so the writing was likely to appeal to me. I have been noticing an uptick in the amount of uplifting literature or "up lit" published recently and have been interested not only in the phenomenon but also in these faith-in-humanity restoring stories and what they give to us as readers. And finally I do have a fascination with books about hiking and pilgrimages and the Camino de Santiago in particular pulls at me. With all of that going for it, it's no surprise that I enjoyed this gentle novel.

People undertake pilgrimages for every reason under the sun. Zoe, an American, is a recent widow struggling to process the sudden change in her life, her unexpected lack of money, and her re-awakened interest in the art she gave up in order to have children (now grown) and be a wife. She's arrived in Cluny to visit an old college friend as she contemplates what to do with her life now. Martin, a Brit, is an engineer who fled to Cluny, France to teach for a year after his wife's affair with his boss left him both unemployed and divorced. Completely broke, Martin sees a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago struggling with the trolley he's using to transport his belongings and decides first to see if he can design a better option, and once he does, to try and market it to earn some money. Neither Zoe nor Martin intended to hike the Camino de Santiago (also known as the Chemin or the Way), but it offers each of them a chance to change themselves, their perspectives, and their lives. Zoe will walk it in order to have time to think and to plan her next steps in life, to reflect on her marriage and who she became versus who she wants to be. Martin will walk it to road test his one-wheeled cart as proof to investors that it is everything he claims. But both of them will gain so much more from their walk than just what their original intentions promise.

Starting out within days of each other on their respective walks after having met briefly in Cluny, Zoe and Martin have set (negative) initial ideas about each other and even though they continue to run across each other as they look for places for food and to spend the night, they keep their distance. They each meet a wide variety of fellow travelers as they walk, all of whom have their own reasons for tackling the long and winding way.  It is through these fellow pilgrims that Zoe and Martin start to thaw towards each other, coming to value the others' presence on the trail even though long stretches of their time is still spent walking alone. Alternating first person chapters between Zoe and Martin, the reader sees not only their internal motivations for walking but also what they think of each other and of the others they meet along the way. The first person narration also allows the reader to see when and how they each start to confront the things in their life that have brought them to this place and this walk as they learn that no matter how far they go, they cannot out walk the things that burden them and instead must acknowledge them, face them, and either release them or embrace them in order to move forward. Sometimes this knowledge comes as their relationship deepens but at other times it must be learned in solo contemplation.

The novel takes some time to really get going, focused as it is on the walk itself. In the beginning the characters are quite consumed by the purely physical concerns of the journey, finding food and inexpensive shelter, caring for their feet and tired, dirty bodies. It is only later in their respective travels that they start to focus on the emotional aspects of this pilgrimage to find themselves. The pacing is slow and only ever speeds up to leisurely as the novel progresses so readers looking for a romp of any sort are forewarned. Instead of a rollicking adventure, this is a sweet story of starting over, embracing change--good and bad, the goodness of humanity, and second (or third) chances at love. It is a quick and easy read and it is clear to see that Simsion and Buist, who have themselves walked the route that Zoe and Martin take, not only have a knowledge of the Camino but also a strong affection for it and for the changes it made in their own lives. Sweet, sometimes funny, sometimes romantic, and definitely thoughtful, this is a delightful and engaging read.

For more information about Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist and the book, check out his webpage or her webpage, like him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter of follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for prodding me to pull the book off my shelf to review.

1 comment:

I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

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