Bibliophile reviews Tim Moore’s Spanish Steps: Travels with my donkey

Year published: 2004
Genre: Non-fiction, travel
Setting & time: Spain, 21 century

The Story:
In 2002 or 3 or thereabouts, travel writer and journalist Tim Moore set out to trace the Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrim trail from St Jean Pied-de-Port in France to the shrine of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, with Shinto, a pack donkey, in tow. Unable to find stabling for Shinto in St Jean, they actually stated the journey about 10 km up the road. What followed were 40 days and 750 km. of slow travelling. While some of the dangers braved by medieval pilgrims were no longer available, such as robbers, bears and wolves, the weather was still there to inconvenience them just like it did their predecessors, sometimes with blistering heat and sometimes with pouring rain, as were such age-old annoyances as snoring roommates and moochers. Then there were hardships undreamt of by the pilgrims of old, such as cars and the overpowering heat of asphalt under the sun. On the other hand, there was the fact that the next eatery or supermarket was never more than a few hours walk way, the hostels, while often primitive, had running water and electrical lights, and it would have been easy to abandon the journey at any time and be home in a few hours, a luxury the pilgrims didn’t have, so it really was impossible to experience the journey in the way the medieval pilgrims did. And Moore doesn't pretend to, which is good. He describes people, mostly other pilgrims he met upon the road, with a deft pen, sometimes kindly, sometimes mockingly, not sparing himself when he thinks he deserves it, and writes good-humouredly about his almost constant battles to get Shinto to cross bridges and to stop the donkey from following him into every building he enters.

Technique and plot:
Here is finally a book by Tim Moore that I am almost completely happy with, apart from his not knowing when to end a running joke that stopped being funny after chapter 4, if it was ever funny in the first place (if you like zoophilia jokes, it will no doubt keep you entertained for longer than it did me). I enjoyed Frost on my Moustache but thought Moore was trying too hard to imitate Bill Bryson, and I thought French Revolutions, while occasionally funny and full of interesting trivia about the Tour de France, was too whiny over all to be a really good travelogue. But Spanish Steps is neither. It is one of the best travelogues I have read in recent years, a nicely balanced blend of humour and seriousness, past history and personal growth, peppered with descriptions of landscapes, events, people and animals encountered along the way.
If you are looking for a tale of enlightenment and religious experiences, this is not that kind of book. Moore didn’t do the pilgrimage for religious reasons, and he didn’t have any religious experiences along the way, although some of his fellow travellers seem to have.

Rating: An enjoyable and honest travelogue. Recommended. 4 stars.

Apparently his most recent book is about the people who came in last with zero points in the Eurovision Song Contest. Should be interesting.


Camino Junkie said…
Your have been rather generous to Tim Moore. The Travel Writers' Blog suggested that he uses these trips (like the camino) to hang his large repertoire of gags onto, rather than write an honest travel book.
I persoanlly found his gags tedious and his descriptions of other pilgrims both unkind and cruel.
2 out of 10 is more like it!
Bibliophile said…
Everyone is allowed to have an opinion. Ours just happen to differ.
Rachel said…
I loved this book and enjoy Moore's other travel writings very much. There's a review of Travels with My Donkey on the Book Trout if you care to read it.


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