Reluctant Pilgrim

Written by ffiona Perigrinor
Review by Anna Belfrage

Margery Kempe is credited with having written the first English autobiography. Not that she wrote it herself—she did not know how to. Instead, she dictated the exciting events of her life to her confessor. Margery is the protagonist of Reluctant Pilgrim—or, rather, she’s the sun around which the real protagonist, the anonymous narrator, orbits. In fact, everyone in Margery’s life orbits around her, which is as it should be according to this exceedingly self-centred woman.

The narrator is Margery’s maidservant. She is more to Margery than that, but this is not something Margery is willing to acknowledge. In difference to Margery, her maidservant can read and write, skills she conceals, as in these intolerant times writing and reading can potentially lead to you being accused of heresy.

Margery Kempe is deliciously dislikeable and complicated: she is totally uninterested in her immediate family, expects all the limelight to fall on her but is undeniably devout. So devout she takes vows of chastity and departs on holy pilgrimage, leaving behind her distraught husband—but not her maidservant.

Ms Perigrinor takes the reader along on quite the road trip through 15th-century Europe and beyond, presenting us with package tour trips (I kid you not!) to the Holy Land, pilgrims of all sorts (including some who feature in a contemporary book about pilgrims), a brief appearance of a certain ploughman named Piers, and a parade of commoners from all walks of life.

Reluctant Pilgrim is packed with details about medieval life, elegantly inserted in the vivid and beautifully written first-person narrative. Yes, the first few pages were hard to get through, but I urge would-be readers to press on and discover just what an absolute gem this book is. Brava, Ms. Perigrinor, brava!