Why would an unfit, 50-something Englishwoman embark on a solo walk across France from La Rochelle on the west coast to Lake Geneva over the Swiss border? And why would a total stranger from San Antonio, Texas come to live in her crumbling French farmhouse to house-sit for a multitude of boisterous and unpredictable animals? With no experience of hiking or camping, not to mention using a compass, Susie Kelly found out the hard way that it is possible to be overloaded and ill-prepared at the same time. Scorching days, glacial nights, perpetual blisters, inaccurate maps, a leaking tent and an inappropriate sleeping bag were daily vexations, but as she hobbled eastwards, the glory of the French landscape revealed its magic and the kindness of strangers repaid her discomfort in spades. While Texan Jennifer Shields copes heroically with lost dogs, erratic electricity, old men hiding in bushes, and a language she cannot speak, Susie doggedly tramps 500 miles over unknown terrain, frequently lost and either too hot or too cold. This is a tale of English eccentricity, the American pioneering spirit, and of two women old enough to know better.
A few weeks back I was contacted by Black Birdie Books, wondering if I would be interesting in reading a new book by Susie Kelly. After reading her The Valley of Heaven and Hell - Cycling in the Shadow of Marie-Antoinette and absolutely loving that, I didn't hesitate to accept this one.
Let me start out by saying - it did not let me down! I love Kelly's style of writing, she's so much fun to read. I laughed and cried along with her and it's just so easy to be caught up in her journey. She's so easy to relate to as she suffers but keeps on going. I love the travel descriptions and though it's not as heavy on the information about the areas she passes through as The Valley of Heaven and Hell book, I still feel like I've learned a lot about rural France and am once again inspired to want to go there myself.
My only beef with this book, are the parts where we hear from Jennifer. It feels like she wrote them rather than Susie Kelly, and it is jarringly different. Much of it feels like she's basically just reciting what happened, whereas Kelly has much more of a natural flow to hers. Thankfully those passages were very short and did not disrupt my overall feelings for the book.
Again I highly recommend this book (like the other) to everyone who, well likes to read. It's such a positive experience and for me it was also a much needed break from all things fantasy and over the top YA.
259 pages / published in 2003 (re-published in 2011 as a digital version)
Review by Iben Jakobsen, BoB, 2011