The Leper's Companions by Julia Blackburn - review by Jane Gardam

Jane Gardam

Visions on the Beach

The Leper's Companions


Jonathan Cape 224pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The Leper’s Companions appears to have been written in a state of heavenly innocence. But there is more to Julia Blackburn than that.

She is the daughter of the poet Thomas Blackburn, who, she has said, was ‘very wild and very, very violent’, but taught her that ‘words have the magical power to make sense of things’. This is the first of her books that can with certainty be called a novel – she has published three highly praised imaginative biographies – and is written as a series of visions, not unlike those of her fourteenth-century East Anglian predecessor, Julian of Norwich.

Not that there is any equivalent here to Dame Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love. Divine love was not an easy concept in the wretched, lice-ridden fishing village on the Suffolk coast in 1410 which has been consuming Blackburn for the past two years.

But this isn’t a historical novel mixed with a pastiche of medieval mysticism, it is a great story contemporarily treated. Fiction runs into autobiography and out again. The author/narrator who is often in the wings in Blackburn’s other books is here centre stage, commenting not on flamboyant international figures (one

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