Wednesday 13 March 2019

Pilgrim by Louise Hall @LouHallWriter @MercierBooks #Pilgrim - Book Review

In Dublin, fourteen-year-old Jen and her father, Charlie, are struggling to cope with the death of their mother/wife. Charlie, in particular, seems to have given up on life. When Jen's aunt, Suzanne, convinces them to go on a pilgrimage to a strange village in Yugoslavia, there is hope that some solace or healing may be brought to their broken lives. On their arrival, however, they find a village in upheaval. An influx of pilgrims have swarmed into the village, each looking for their own miracle. Then there are the local police, who aim to suppress this so-called `revolution'. Amid all this, Jen makes a friend, Iva - one of the children who claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. Told with a deep humanity and grace, Pilgrim is a story about a man who feels he has nothing to live for, and a daughter who is determined to prove him wrong. A nuanced and moving exploration of grief and faith. Unique subject matter based around the famed Medjugorje apparitions. The author already has a dedicated readership built up from her two non-fiction books on Medjugorje. This is her first fictional take on the story.

Pilgrim by Louise Hall was published in paperback on 14 September by The Mercier Press. My thanks to the author who sent my copy for review.

It's very rare that I stop reading a book half way through so that I can send an email to the author to tell them just exactly how their writing is affecting me. I did that whilst reading Pilgrim. My copy has so many turned down corners; marking passages and phrases that lifted my heart and made me stop and read them over again. 

I was brought up in England by an Irish Catholic mother and spend every summer of my childhood in Donegal, Ireland. Donegal is a hugely Catholic county and I remember clearly my grandmother and her friends discussing the miracles of Medjugorje, and Lourdes. There were regular pilgramages to Lough Derg and to Knock and the apparitions were believed and accepted, without a doubt.  We even had our own local shrine, just outside Dungloe, at Kerrytown.

Readers who are not familiar with shrines and apparitions would benefit from reading the Author Notes at the back of the book; to get a little insight into just how massively important these were to the Catholic people of Ireland.

Now, to the book. Pilgrim is exquisitely written. Louise Hall has the ability to totally transfix her readers; reaching out and grabbing them and thrusting them deep into the lives of her characters.

Oh what wonderfully created characters these are. A mixed and diverse selection of men, women and children who are all bearing their own burdens; be that grief, or guilt or just fear. Each and every one of them are carefully constructed, flawed yet incredibly human and so very believable.

This author has incorporated very modern-day issues and problems into her story. Some of these are so dark; death, recession, alcoholism, gambling and drug addiction are just a few, yet she writes with the humour and wit that the Irish are so well known for, and these flashes of brightness really lift the story.

As Suzanne notices a new second-hand shop that has just opened nearby, her reporting of the window display is just magical:
" Louis was standing inside the front window, trying to arrange some sort of attractive display that consisted of a Child of Prague statue with a missing arm and a bottle of 4711 perfume that looked the colour of a urine sample."
A very mixed bunch of people make a pilgrimage to Medjurgorje in communist Yugoslavia where six young children regularly see Mary, the mother of God appear to them. People are flocking from all over the world to this small, poverty stricken village in the middle of a war zone in the hope that they too will see her, and their worries will be banished and their sins and guilt absolved.

The story is narrated through different points of view; there's the Francisan priest and Jen; who is travelling with her father after the tragic death of her mother. We hear from Jen's aunt Suzanne, we also hear from Jen's father.  Each and every one of these voices is clear and crisp.

Ultimately this is a story of faith. The words are tender and gentle, despite some of the bleak and shocking events covered. We, as readers, take that journey alongside the characters. discovering more about them, and their life. Changing our judgements as we go and most of all, desperately hoping that they find their peace.

Pilgrim is at times wickedly funny and constantly deeply moving. It really is extraordinarily moving and elegantly written.  Highly recommended.

Louise Hall is from Malahide, Co. Dublin. 
She has previously published two works of non-fiction, 'Medjugorje: What it Means to Me' and 'Medjugorje and Me: A Collection of Stories from Across the World'. 
Her fiction has been published in 'The Irish Times' and been shortlisted for numerous competitions, such as the RTE Guide/Penguin Short Story Award, the Colm Toibin International Short Story Competition and the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards. 

'Pilgrim' is her debut novel.

Website :
Twitter : @LouHallWriter
Instagram : @louisehallwriter

Mercier Press is Ireland's oldest independent publishing house, based in Cork. It was founded in 1944 by Captain Seán and Mary Feehan. The publishing house was named after Cardinal Mercier of Belgium, a man who in his day, proved himself not only a man of thought, whose mind ranged over every subject of vital interest to humanity, but a man of action in the varying circumstances of a life that shone before the eyes of a watching world. The voice of Cardinal Mercier could not be stilled and Mercier Press is proud to borrow from him the inspiration for its publishing programme, which is a belief in the importance of Ireland's ability to provide accessible histories and cultural books for Irish readers and all who are interested in Irish cultural life.

Website :

Pilgrim is going on a Blog Tour in April.

Check out these blogs to hear more about the book 

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