The Crossway by Guy Stagg - review by Lilian Pizzichini

Lilian Pizzichini

To Be a Pilgrim

The Crossway


Picador 415pp £16.99

Part-travel book, part-confessional, Guy Stagg’s debut has earned him a slot on Radio 4 and a Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award (2016). Philip Hoare describes it as ‘a timely antidote to our disconnected times’, which hits the nail on the head. Disconnection lies at the heart of Stagg’s book. It is what motivated him to walk 5,500 kilometres on foot from Canterbury to Jerusalem through ten countries, a pilgrimage lasting ten months, and to write about his trip. It is epic but it always feels intimate. The hermits on Mount Athos are demystified and brought down to earth as Stagg probes issues such as the Transfiguration. ‘First lesson any convert needs to learn is: forget everything you know about Christianity,’ says a helpful monk. Greece in all its glory, with Stagg stomping his way through terraced vines and along cliff edges, leads him to Albania, a path less travelled. Stagg’s dense prose allows us to enjoy a land littered with drab little towns and men with shaved scalps. There is poetry in Stagg’s depiction, and just as Byron fell for Albania’s charms, Stagg falls in love with green-eyed Esme. He doesn’t shy away from his muddled emotions or his blisters, doubts and rain-drenched kit. He keeps going, plodding, wading, watching, recording, looking for redemption and hope. He finds both along the way, and loses them, and finds them again.

He writes with honesty, to the point that he admits he hardly understands himself or the reasons for his journey. Alcohol comes up a lot. Our pilgrim is a binge drinker and in between drinking sprees he waits, tense and brittle, for an answer to appear – for a solution

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RLF - March