Former newspaper editor and author Jane Christmas gives the gears to the midlife crisis travelogue with this, her second book, chronicling her trek along Spain’s legendary northwest coast to the grave of Saint James. Forget Elizabeth George and her Oprahfied memoir about a pilgrimage of rediscovery in middle age. This is the real deal.
Christmas begins her journey as an optimist about both the trek and her travelling companions. An offhand remark about a planned trip at a reading for her first book attracts a coterie of middle-aged women from across the country, all of them expecting different things from Christmas and from each other. Many of them – Christmas included – do little or nothing to prepare for the physical and mental rigours of a long walk in a strange land. Predictably, things fall apart, and Christmas ends up alone. Unpredictably, she enjoys it – despite the advances made by pervy pilgrims and the dirt, grime, and gruntwork of the hike itself.
Fortunately, Christmas avoids reducing her experience to a pat epiphany or platitude about how the trail changed her life (though it did). Her style is equal parts Nora Ephron and Bill Bryson, balancing pithy observation with the history of the trail and her own experience upon it.
The warts and grottiness of Christmas’s journey – torn fingernails, catty companions, near-crippling bouts of self-pity, and the lot – are recognizable and relatable, much more so than a glossy religious experience or steamy love affair, and much more enjoyable for its accessibility.