Pilgrim by Louise Hall – a book of love, loss, faith and hope

A series of miraculous visions by children in Medjugorje give much of the impetus for this immensely readable novel. Despite the terrible events which mean that this book opens with a death, this is a book which comes to speak movingly and tellingly of families and friendship which transcend difficult circumstances. As the characters try to come to terms with the human problems of addiction and loss, there is also a transcendent sense of faith in the unexplained joy and love of friendship. Children with immense family problems come together to support each other, adults try to gain insight into the sadness of others, and throughout there is the theme of hope in the human spirit. Even the sunlight takes on a different quality as several of the characters embark on a journey of hope, even when things seem bleak. With a gentle Irish humour and a purposeful plot, I really enjoyed this gentle and deceptively powerful book, and I was grateful for the opportunity to read and review it.

The book opens with a stunning description of the type of life changing experience of six children who jointly receive a series of visions of Mary, mother of Jesus. This is not convenient time and place for this to happen; under communist rule these open expressions of faith can mean danger for the children and those who support them. Shortly afterwards the scene shifts to Ireland, where a woman, Sarah, in trying to find her husband on a dark wet night, is hit by a car. Left in a coma, her family struggle to come to terms with their imminent loss. Her sister Suzanne tries to hope, but finds the loss unendurable of her beautiful sibling. It is most traumatic for her husband Charlie, as he comes to realise that his behaviour has made his wife very sad, and his daughter Jen struggle to cope. There are several minor characters who have their traumas and challenges, and much is hoped from a pilgrimage journey to a tiny village where visitors are welcomed despite the villagers’ lack of resources. Charlie behaves badly as he continues to seek solace in alcohol, but Jen discovers friendship in a new setting. Can they, and those around them, come to terms with what has happened, and perhaps begin to find new ways to live?

This book is peopled with some amazing characters who seem to live fully realised in settings where the countryside and the town have their own powerful reality. This is a far more enjoyable read than at first appears; the intense relationships between the people are exceptionally moving. I especially found the insights into each character as I read through the different named sections fascinating, yet the book flowed beautifully as a whole narrative. Some events were predictable, others less so, but this is a book with a real sense of purpose as hope begins to emerge. I recommend this as a book for those interested in the recent past, the truth of how children and young people can sometimes see the truth more easily, and the power of community. A lovely read with gentle power.