Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion & Anne Buist
Publisher: Two Roads
Publishing Date: 5th April 2018
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review, thank you!
Number of pages: 4368
Genre: General Fiction
Zoe, a sometime artist, is from California. Martin, an engineer, is from Yorkshire. Both have ended up in picturesque Cluny, in central France. Both are struggling to come to terms with their recent past—for Zoe, the death of her husband; for Martin, a messy divorce. Looking to make a new start, each sets out alone to walk two thousand kilometres from Cluny to Santiago, in northwestern Spain, in the footsteps of pilgrims who have walked the Camino—the Way—for centuries.
The Camino changes you, it’s said. It’s a chance to find a new version of yourself. But can these two very different people find each other?
In this smart, funny and romantic journey, Martin’s and Zoe’s stories are told in alternating chapters by husband-and-wife team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist. Two Steps Forward is a novel about renewal—physical, psychological and spiritual. It’s about the challenge of walking a long distance and of working out where you are going. And it’s about what you decide to keep, what you choose to leave behind and what you rediscover.
When I started reading this book I was a little surprised because, to be honest, I knew it’s going to be about walking, but I haven’t supposed that it’s going to be that much about walking. There were really moments that I felt frustrated and the story felt very slow as it mostly focused on the way, on counting the kilometres, on spotting the right sign and I really thought for a moment that maybe Graeme Simsion has turned into non – fiction. But deep, deep under all the descriptions of the places, finding accommodation and what to have for dinner and being on the road, there is a lovely, poignant and moving love story that I incredibly adored.
I think I liked Zoe’s parts better. Zoe herself was quirkier and cheekier than Martin, and full of life, and the chapters told from her point of view just read better. She’s recently widowed and she hasn’t grieved her husband fully yet. His sudden and unexpected death has brought some surprises. She’s also an aspiring artist but what with life getting in the way her career was aborted. Dr Martin Eden has just divorced, taken a temporary teaching position in Cluny and after a chance encounter with a Dutch pilgrim he’s designed a pilgrim cart that he’s going to test himself, hoping to sell the design. So some hikers are on the spiritual journey and some are avoiding it but all of them learn on the way what real love and friendship is.
This book starts slowly and continues rather slowly but it has plenty of brilliant moments and characters, and in the end I found myself incredibly attached to the two main characters. It also introduces us to many background characters and while mostly they accompany Zoe and Martin on their way, they appear and disappear, come and go, and almost till the end I had problems to know who is who and to whom they belong. Sure, they all have their own stories – they wouldn’t walk the Camino otherwise, and they were mostly engaging, but next to the whole walking and the plots of Zoe and Martin there were moments that it was just too much to take.
The banter between the characters was great and it livened up the story so very much. There are tons of misunderstandings and miscommunications, jumping to conclusions and secrets and it all flow so effortlessly and seems so natural. As the story is told through Zoe and Martin’s perspectives it’s really easy to keep pace with their distinctive voices and to know where they’re actually are and what they’re thinking.
The “spiritual aspect” of this journey is very well handled. The authors give their characters a choice. They show that being a pilgrim is not always only about religion, that there are many different and equally important reasons to start such journey. The authors’ experience with this way of pilgrimage is evident, and at the end of the book they did admit that they themselves walked the Camino twice, and it’s visible through their vivid descriptions and their love to the details, the descriptions of the many villages and places of accommodation.
Altogether “Two Steps Forward” was a brilliant, uplifting and warm read about life – changing experience, about finding your own way, and also about kindness. There is plenty of humour and the characters’ problems are very down – to – earth, which makes the reading even more relatable. It shows that sometimes it’s better to look at your problems through a different perspective, that sometimes it’s great to trust total strangers. Highly recommended!