One morning in 1410, two men from an East-Coast fishing village find a mermaid washed up on the sand. This discovery starts a chain of events that leads four of our villages-the priest, the shoemaker's wife, the fisherman's daughter and the leper-on a pilgrimage: across the North Sea, to Venice and then along the Mediterranean coast to the Holy ...
One morning in 1410, two men from an East-Coast fishing village find a mermaid washed up on the sand. This discovery starts a chain of events that leads four of our villages-the priest, the shoemaker's wife, the fisherman's daughter and the leper-on a pilgrimage: across the North Sea, to Venice and then along the Mediterranean coast to the Holy Land. With the magical imagination that has illumiated her previous books, Julia Blackburn travels with her pilgrims. At first she follows from Distance, but gradually she pulls closer until the five centuries between their time and ours dissolve and the author has entered their world. A spellbinding novel by one of the most original writers currently at work, The Leper's Companions is an extraordinary evocation of the medieval world-a book about birth and death, about destiny, about the courage to let go without the certainty of surviving, to journey with no certainty of return.
Publishers Weekly, 1999-02-22 Much praised for her elegant writing and originality, British biographer and novelist Blackburn has set a new standard for herself in her exquisite second novel (after The Book of Color). In supple prose, she spins a captivating tale, blending the present-day story of a woman recovering from the loss of someone she loved with the story of a medieval English village. As the novel opens, an unnamed contemporary narrator has found "sanctuary for [her] restless thoughts" in a seaside village, which in her imagination she recreates and repopulates as it must have been more than 500 years ago, in 1410. In the village of her mind dwells a young fisherman, his very young pregnant wife, a shoemaker and his wife, a woman who sees devils, a woman who returns from the dead, a red-haired girl, a red-tongued man and a priest who spends his nights copying out the Book of Revelations. Passing through this village is a leper, knocking his wooden clappers to warn the unsuspecting of his approach. As the narrator imagines them, each of these characters has suffered for love, and their stories could be allegories of love and loss. Magical, even miraculous, things occur in this world saturated with pagan and Christian mythology: a mermaid is washed ashore, a relic (the dried hand of Saint Anthony) saves a life, a blind man regains his sight. In keeping with this spirit, the priest, the shoemaker's wife, the fisherman's wife and the narrator accompany the leper on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, hoping to protect the village from the plague. It is during this journey that the leper's story of lost love, disease and healing emerges. His account quietly harmonizes with the narrator's and ultimately brings resolution to the novel. Perhaps most impressive is Blackburn's keen sympathy for her characters and her sensual evocation of medieval life. While the plot is sometimes digressive and difficult to follow, it's full of satisfying riches. This novel does something quite rare: it takes you someplace new. (Apr.)
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