*I received a free copy of The Canterbury Sisters from Gallery Books via Edelweiss. This has in no way influenced my voluntary review, which is honest and unbiased *|
Che Milan’s life is falling apart. Not only has her longtime lover abruptly dumped her, but her eccentric, demanding mother has recently died. When an urn of ashes arrives, along with a note reminding Che of a half-forgotten promise to take her mother to Canterbury, Che finds herself reluctantly undertaking a pilgrimage.
Within days she joins a group of women who are walking the sixty miles from London to the shrine of Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, reputed to be the site of miracles. In the best Chaucer tradition, the women swap stories as they walk, each vying to see who can best describe true love. Che, who is a perfectionist and workaholic, loses her cell phone at the first stop and is forced to slow down and really notice the world around her, perhaps for the first time in years.
Through her adventures along the trail, Che finds herself opening up to new possibilities in life and discovers that the miracles of Canterbury can take surprising forms.
The Canterbury Sisters is a tale of eight women, walking the Canterbury trail from London to the Cathedral in Canterbury, following in Chaucer’s steps, each sharing their stories, searching for redemption and a reason to keep on.
My The Canterbury Sisters review:
The Canterbury Sisters isn’t the first book about pilgrimage I have absolutely loved. I think that taking the time to go on a specific walk, think about our life, our choices, how to continue moving forward is something very special. And I would really like to do my own pilgrimage one day. Just to be away from the stress of daily life, away from electronics, one with myself and my thoughts and beliefs. It is something that definitely takes courage, and in Che’s case, it started out like an escape. Che needed to get away from herself, in a way, away from thinking of her mother who had recently died, away from the boyfriend who sent her an actual letter to let her know he had met another woman. Away from work, stress, from running in circles.
When Che first arrived in London, her plans to go on a solitary walk to Canterbury to sprinkle her mother’s ashes were thwarted, as her guide was in the hospital. And walking with a group of women she didn’t know wasn’t high up on her list of things she wanted to do. However, she didn’t really want to just take the train to the cathedral either, just to fulfill her mother’s wishes. And so, she finally did decide to join the group, entertaining herself and the reading with her rather sarcastic thoughts about the women she was going to share the next five or six days with, walking, listening to stories, getting to know them even if she didn’t really want to.
The Canterbury Sisters is a beautiful story about the journey being about moving towards something, not the destination itself. How it is important to be in touch with ourselves, realize that not everything is as it seems like at the surface. Seeing ourselves and others in a different light when we see behind the façade. Daring to be honest. That was truly something big for Che, as she was lying, even to herself, and a lot of things she thought she knew was based on what she called her ‘family mythology’. Thought-provoking and both tender and quite sad, The Canterbury Sisters brought me along as a spectator to the interactions between the women. Some who knew each other, while others had come alone to join a group to walk with. Eye-opening in many ways, and also comforting in the way Che was able to slowly let go of her pre-conceptions and really listen. Both to herself and the other women.
While the story is told from Che’s perspective, each woman tells her own story – either something from their own life, or a fully fictional story that has touched them in some way. And all the while, through listening to each of the other women’s stories, Che unfolds a little more about herself, things that she wasn’t truly aware of before. Being without her phone – her connection to the world in many ways – really made her able to analyze her life, her relations, her work, and finally, figuring out what she needs to be happy. Rather slow-paced, which fit the story perfectly, the writing is both lyrical in places and very straight-forward and almost harsh in others. The Canterbury Sisters is the kind of story that helps me reflect on my own life, too, and it will definitely stay with me for a long time, possibly it will even become one of the very few stories I re-read.
Some of my favorite The Canterbury Sisters quotes:
Because I was cursed the minute I was born to the impetuous, talented, politically radical and sexually experimental Diana de Milan. The ‘de’ was her idea. “Diana Milan” wasn’t big enough to hold her. She needed to stretch her name with that small but exotic middle syllable – the chance to make her life roomier and looser, a way to give her something to grow into.
Magic born of murder. Money born of both. It had struck me as odd, even sinister, but Diana had nodded in satisfaction, the way you do when the last piece of a puzzle finally drops into place.
Diana died so slowly that somehow I thought I would skip this part, that I had finished all my grieving in advance.
This book counts towards the summer COYER scavenger hunt item 75 : Step outside your comfort zone, read a book in a genre you have read less than five times this year (5 points)
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: