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‘The Accidental Pilgrim’ by Maggi Dawn

This is a beguiling book. I’m not quite sure what I had expected, but as Maggi Dawn teaches theology and is chaplain at Robinson College, Cambridge (though she is about to move to Yale as Associate Professor), I did anticipate a possible struggle. She quotes from The Revd Dr Dee Dyas‘s Pilgrimage in English Medieval Literature (p45), which is indeed a scholarly work, but I needed a tail wind, several espressos and a towel wrapped round my head to absorb that. Fear not. You are in different territory here. With the lightest of gossamer touches, in her first two sentences, she draws you into the narrative of what is in effect a journal:

‘Standing on the cool, bare tiles in the shade of the wooden shutters at the window, I squinted into the bright light. Directly below was a military checkpoint, and to either side the road was lined with tumbledown buildings. Beyond them the sandy landscape was cobwebbed with olive trees and far away in the distance some new buildings on the upper slopes of the hills shone dazzling white in the late afternoon sun’.

Impossible not to read on.  It moves at a cracking pace and, at only 147 pages of double-spaced type, I would have finished it in one sitting were it not for an annoying person from Porlock who interrupted me. Although I have never met the author, I feel I know her well from our conversations on twitter. But even if I had never had any previous contact, in this book I would have felt her lead me by the hand on her physical journeys, whether to the Holy Land, Spain or nearer to home, answer questions about the meaning of what we were seeing without my needing to voice them, and suggest other questions of her own for me to think about. In short, I would feel I had made a friend.

It is very Anglican – and English – in tone. She is out of tune – as I would have been – with the unseemly histrionics (my phrase) of some of the other pilgrims in the Holy Land, and the religious souvenir shops at Walsingham.

Maggi has some serendipitous narrative surprises, which I do not want to spoil for you, but let me just say that there are one or two nudges along the way which a more evangelical writer might feel obliged to use to  hammer the point home. But there is no hammer in her armoury; reading this book is a two-way process between author and reader in which the meaning is what you make it. I found several important messages for me, even at a first quick reading, but I am still not sure whether the clues were deliberately placed for the reader to draw specific conclusions, or whether even the clues are in the eyes of the beholder. It is very cleverly written, but with an art that conceals art. Perhaps it is like the labyrinth on the book jacket? We travel without being certain that we will ever reach the centre, but different travellers on the same road, and the same travellers at different times, will all find something different.

I will not end by telling you how the book ends, tempting though this is because it is such a good conclusion. But I will tell you that, now I have read it from cover to cover, I am about to start again at the first page. And then I will leave it for a while, perhaps, before reading it all over again. It is a book to keep by your bedside forever.

These two photographs of the launch were taken by Tim Skellett (‘Gurdur’) on Friday 15th July at All Hallows On The Wall, London and are reproduced with his kind permission.

 

 

Notes
The two photographs in the text were kindly provided by Maggi Dawn herself. I should make it clear that this review was unsought and was not seen by the author before publication

12 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...
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Good review, have you read it for the second time yet?

Now I'm having to think about Amazon for the third time this week. 🙂

13 July 2011 17:03
Lay Anglicana said...
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Thank-you UKViewer. It is now by my bedside, waiting to be taken up again tonight.
Well worth it!

13 July 2011 17:05
Gurdur said...
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You're welcome to use any photos from me on the book-launch for this; unfortunately my photos came out terrible, but I posted them anyway.

17 July 2011 16:52
Lay Anglicana said...
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Thank-you,Gurdur, that's a good idea. I have just tweeted you about the book: I think you will enjoy it as you don't need to be a Christian to be interested in life's journey, which is what this is about. And Maggi is no tub-thumper…

17 July 2011 17:01
simonmarsh.org said...
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Great review. Very many thanks. Mine just arrived … one sitting you said? Phone unplugged, Yale roundly congratulated on the brilliance of its new appointment, Mac told to go to sleep … here goes a pilgrim 🙂 Again: thanks …

19 July 2011 10:29
Lay Anglicana said...
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Thank-you, Simon. I expect you will want to react to ‘The Accidental Pilgrim’ on your own blog, but if you have a moment to let us know here (with a link to your own post) what your headline reactions were, that would be great!

19 July 2011 10:57
Greg Brewer said...
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I am always beguiled by someone who has made a commendable point by way of the art that hides the art, as you say. While subtlety may be playing to m pride, it also heightens my awareness of God’s whispers in my own life. I look forward to the read. The book will not be available in the States until 1 September, but there is more than enough to do in these last weeks of August. Many thank!

13 August 2011 11:39
Mary Sayer said...
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Superb review, even though I’m a little late finding it. I saw the book recommended in this month’s issue of ‘idea’ magazine. Appetite whetted, I decided to investigate further and found myself here. I need look no further.
I am looking forward to discovering for myself what you have described.
Many thanks.

Lay Anglicana said...
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Thank-you for commenting here, Mary. I now feel a bear a heavy responsibility (!) but I am not seriously worried – I am sure you will enjoy it.

29 February 2012 11:15
29 February 2012 09:09
Jess said...
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This is a wonderful review, which I too am obviously getting to a little late also… This book was already on my must-read-soon list, but has just been bumped up the list after reading this! Something to look forward to in Epiphany! Thank you.

Lay Anglicana said...
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Thank-you for commenting – never too late! And I really do still keep it by my bedside 🙂

05 December 2012 07:45
05 December 2012 04:54
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[…] travelling for God, we usually think in terms of individual pilgrimage. Maggi Dawn’s ‘The Accidental Pilgrim‘ describes it in terms of the labyrinth on the book jacket: we travel without being certain […]

05 February 2013 06:00