I first read The Lord of the Rings in my teens and enjoyed it so much that I decided never to read another fantasy – what would be the point? I asked myself, none could ever be as good as Tolkien’s magnum opus.
Today, I don’t quite feel the same way about the travelogue genre but thanks to Patrick Leigh Fermor (A Time of Gifts) and Hilaire Belloc (The Path to Rome) any other account of how a man got from here to there is going to have a tough job in impressing me.
Enter Tim Moore and Spanish Steps; here is Valcarlos, there is Santiago de Compostela. And Moore is not alone, for he has with him a donkey named Shinto.
So far, so cute. And indeed, no matter how many times Shinto may relieve himself in embarrassing fashion, expose his manhood (or should that be donkhood?) to shocked children, or wake the poor pilgrims up at unearthly hours with his doleful braying he remains cute throughout.
I’m sure that Tim Moore is equally cute in his own way – though hopefully he does not do some of the the things that Shinto got up to on their journey together – but despite this I have to admit I did not enjoy Spanish Steps in the way I would have liked.
The blame for this lies only with me. I really wanted this to be the story of a pilgrimage. I wouldn’t have minded had Moore arrived at Santiago and not found God but at the very least I would have liked him to take the idea of God seriously.
As it was, the book was simply about Joe Blogs who decided to do the camino and, well, that was that. It made his arrival at Santiago cathedral utterly anti-climactic.
Further to this, I regret that I came away with the impression that the Middle Ages was as much the Age of Corruption or Dodgy Dealing as it was the Age of Faith. I’m sure Moore could have done much more (no pun intended) to give a more (ditto) even view of the medieval period.
However, that’s as may-be; you will see that the main reason I didn’t get on with Spanish Steps is because it was not the book I wanted it to be and that, of course, is not a valid criticism.
Having complained (unfairly), I’ll end with some (hopefully valid) plus points: Moore is an engaging writer. He is a good observer, both of donks and people, sympathetic towards others and not afraid to discuss his own failings in a non self-pitying way.
No, he isn’t Leigh Fermor or Belloc, but he makes a good Tim Moore. But still… If only the book had been something more; this feeling remains with me like an ache.