‘Cycling in the rain, sorting his head out’

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Irish novelist Dermot Bolger has written what I reckon is the best review of ‘The Accidental Pilgrim’ yet.

He’s writer in residence for the South Dublin Libraries and his one of his diaries, he gives his view of the book.

(UPDATE: Dermot was kind enough to email me and let me know the review originally appeared in the Evening Herald)

Here’s the full text:

The first thing to be said about his The Accidental Pilgrim: Travels with a Celtic Saint is that it is a surprisingly good read. I say this as someone with a jaundiced view of what passes for deliberately quirky travel writing ? be it an alternative English comedian playing tennis for a bet against the soccer stars of an impoverished nation or hitching around Ireland with a fringe or even Peter Carey?s recent Wrong about Japan where he simply admitted to making up characters to jolly the plot along.

On the surface, we seemed in for another dose of staged quirkiness with The Accidental Pilgrim as David Moore ? English born of an Irish family and Trinity educated ? returns to Dublin after working in (and profitably fleeing before the crash came) the Silicon Valley dot-com tech bubble. Relatively young, relatively cash-rich, at a relative loose-end and with no real idea of what he wants to do, Moore decides to cycle two thousand kilometres across eight European countries to retrace the footsteps of Saint Columbanus, an opinionated, hard-nosed and hard-line sixth century Irish missionary who founded monasteries and took lip from neither kings or commoners. 

Moore sees Columbanus as the sort of original Irish ex-pat, constantly in search of new horizons and constantly bringing his Irish baggage with him. While recognising the ludicrousness of comparisons between Dark Age ecclesiastical history and modern soccer, he also depicts him as the Roy Keane of the early church, uncompromising and principled to the point of self-destruction, with both being sent home early ? even if Columbanus managed to get himself shipwrecked so that he could flee back into Europe and found yet another monastery.

If this sounds rather too neat a conceit, the book works because of Moore?s sheer absence of cleverness. He possesses no religious belief and recognises that the interest in Columbanus for his college days and this long trip across Europe are primarily an excuse to postpone the future. He is doing this because it alleviates the need to be doing something else. It is a way to put his life on hold.

The nice thing about the book is that nothing much happens. He descends a few hairpin bends at dangerous speeds, lusts after but never manages to bed the odd passing waitress, and spends a lot of time cycling in the rain and sorting his head out. He has a dry wit and is very aware both of the importance of the pilgrimage for himself and how it is slightly ridiculous. He travels alone but in this writing is a surprisingly good companion. David Moore now lives in Dublin, is married and cycles to work. He has never got a puncture, which shows that even agnostics have someone looking after them.

Review from here (in ‘Dermot’s Diary, Feb 8th, 2005)

Posted by David in • Accidental Pilgrim

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