Two Steps Onward (Text Publishing 2021) is the latest collaboration by couple Anne Buist and Graeme Simsion, both independent authors but also the co-writers of this follow-up novel to Two Steps Forward, released in 2017. That first book followed English engineer Martin and Californian artist Zoe as they met and separately completed the famous Camino de Santiago walk in Spain. In this new book we are reunited with Martin and Zoe as they again follow the pilgrims’ footsteps, this time through rural France to Rome, along the Chemin d’Assise and Via Francigena trails.
The story is enriched by the inclusion on the journey of Zoe’s long-time friend Camille, with whom she shares a troubled history, and who insists she will walk the 1600 kms to seek an audience with the Pope, despite her life-threatening illness. Also included are Sarah, Martin’s adult daughter, who is recovering from a crisis and not getting along especially well with Zoe; Gilbert, Camille’s ex or not-so-ex-husband, who is treating the trip as a food and wine gourmet tour; and lastly Bernhard, Martin’s nemesis from the previous trek. Together this group of six each struggle with their own life difficulties and moral choices as they attempt to navigate not only the mountainous terrain, blisters, substandard accommodation and a sometimes inexcusable lack of wine or vegetarian options, but also as they become closer and more intimate with each other, using the walking time as talking time as they divulge secrets, explore dreams and share regrets. In this deliciously food and wine-filled rom-com, the weather, the elements and mother nature provide physical challenges for each character, while their emotional strength is also tested as they work out what they really want in life and what they are prepared to risk to achieve it. With wit and humour and wisdom, Buist and Simsion explore what many of us seek in life – love, friendship, hope, optimism and second chances. And as with the first book, the beauty of this novel is that because the authors have done this walk themselves, as readers we are able to immerse ourselves in the pilgrimage experience without leaving our armchairs. The details of the countryside, the food and the people are infectiously addictive, and inspirational for anyone who has considered such a walk themselves.