This had been on my radar for a while – the wonderful cover had me thinking of extended walks by the seaside – like a coastal Sebald or Solnit. It’s a little different, and not 100% what I was expecting. Instead of a poetic piece of psychogeographical narrative, this is a biography of a couple in their 50s and how, facing homelessness and terminal illness, they decide to walk the 630 mile South West Coast Path.
It’s funny, heart-breaking and full of eye-openers. We are brought face-to-face with the harsh realities of the lives of many living on the fringes of society through the way in which Ray and her husband Moss are treated by those they meet. Their encounters with others really shine a light on the prejudice around homelessness – selling one’s home and embarking on a walk is romantic, but losing it all through someone else’s bad business practice makes them unsavoury in the eyes of many. It’s very telling that it’s those with the least who treat them with the most kindness.
Despite their problems and the difficulties they face, this is a book filled with optimism. They have very little money, but their ability to find joy in the smallest of things is inspiring – because who wouldn’t blow the day’s food budget on chips?
It’s a very enjoyable read, full of humour and self-deprecation. Ray’s narrative is honest and peppered with some wonderfully vivid observations of the natural world:
“We sweated, drank all the water, gathered more from streams, sweated some more. Repeat. The baking jangle of boulders fell to sea level, then rose again, only to fall back.”
Although much of the narrative meshes descriptions of the natural world around them with the recounting of the many encounters with strangers they make on their journey, there are also some snippets of philosophical observations prompted by their experiences:
“We swam in the frothing incoming tide, surfing in on powerful waves of salt water that could have touched the shores of Iceland, Spain or America, a roaring broil that may have travelled thousands of miles or just two.”
The word inspirational is sometimes over-used, but very pertinent in any description of this book. Not only do their attitudes inspire the reader, but those they encounter on their journey are directly inspired by their journey – particularly the young. The message I took from this novel really lingered – that time is short and we need to make the most of it – as beautifully observed by Ray towards the end of the story:
“This second in the millions of seconds was the only one, the only one that we could live in. I was home, there was nothing left to search for, he was my home.”