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Pilgrims by Matthew Kneale

An unusual novel, lighthearted and historical, written après The Canterbury Tales. Set in the thirteenth century and written in a modernised version of Middle English it tells the tale initially from the point of view of a poor country worker, Tom, who is heartbroken at the loss of his best friend who fell down a well and drowned. Unable to bear the thought that his best friend (BF) was serving time in the fires of purgatory Tom decides to go on pilgrimage to Rome to pray at the tomb of ‘Saint Pete’ that his BF would be released early to pass into heaven. Oh! Did I say that his BF was his little cat called Sammy?

As he journeys, he joins up with others on the pilgrimage each for their own reasons, which are explored chapter by chapter and represent the Seven Deadly Sins. The historical context is carefully referenced with feudality, the power of the church, Edward I, wars and intolerance to the Welsh and to Jewry all laid out and setting a background against which the pilgrimage of this eclectic band of travellers progresses.

To call it a romp might be a little disingenuous, but it has many light moments and holds together nicely to its conclusion where there is redemption of one sort or another for all.

Reviewed by a library member.