The Leper’s Companions

Another quick and delightful read, recommended by a former professor (Natania R.) who knows her stuff. The omniscient voice that carries throughout belongs to a current-day woman who loses someone she loves and in order to escape her sadness, she mind-travels to the Middle Ages to an English village near where she lives, sitting with her back against a hut and watching seagulls and the sand and the sea.
The historical inhabitants of the village are a motley crew, the shoemaker and his wife, the priest, Sally newly widowed with small child when her husband becomes obsessed with the mermaid he saw, a red headed girl, and the leper passing through town and clapping his wooden blocks to warn people of his impending arrival. He hands Sally a book of travels as he passes through, Sally eats the map in order to feel the journey inside her since she is unable to read. She takes the book to the priest to have him read it to her and soon enough everyone is venturing out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Storm-tossed seas and a difficult journey later, they are near Jerusalem. Sally has thrown herself off the boat when she sees an apparition of her husband in the calm seas. The shoemaker’s wife hooks up with a local shoemaker and disappears. The priest and the leper arrive in Jerusalem. At the end of their stay, a guide arrives to take the priest to the river Jordan. The leper departs alone, headed not home but outward into the desert. The priest is the only one who returns to the village.
The writing is cerebral but without spirit. The story lacks real oomph. But still a tasty morsel that could be used to clear one’s literary palate before heading into the next big project.

Sometimes he would describe a particular event several times, and with each new telling he became more aware how insubstantial his memories were.

The leper was lying in a corner, barricaded by mattresses that were not his own, soaking wet and dizzy from something which had hit him on the head. People were crying and praying and screaming in a great soup of noise all around him, but he felt very relaxed, and almost contented.