In The Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright, Che (pronounced Shay) is having a difficult time. Her mother has just passed away and has left Che with complicated instructions for her final resting place. Che's mother has asked Che to take her remains on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. Sure, they had talked of going when Che knew that her mother wouldn't ever be healthy enough to actually make the trip, but when she is asked to keep her promise, she is surprised by her willingness to follow through with her word. Adding one more curve ball to Che's plans is the sudden illness of her tour guide, forcing Che to join in with a women's tour group. She had intended to make her journey quickly and quietly, but that is not what Che will have. Instead, she is thrown together with eight other women, each with their own story, their own journey to make. And just as in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, we get to hear each pilgrim's story.
This is a lighthearted, lovely book of Chick Lit. I don't always enjoy Chick Lit, but this one was well written and full of interesting characters. Had this just been Che's story I surely would have been quickly bored, but by adding in the other women and their tapestry of tales, Wright added depth and dimension. This book also explores the sometimes complicated relationship between women and their mothers. Che's mother has always been demanding, eccentric and difficult, but as Che watches her succumbing to cancer, she struggles to know how to relate to her before it is too late.
It's hard to be honest in the presence of the dying and it's hard to be honest with your mother under any circumstances. So when your mother is dying, the effect is squared and you enter into the most bizarre netherworld of bullshit.
Che, as our narrator, is really funny and I really like her. I love that she makes the effort to help the reader keep all the characters straight. When we first meet the group of women, it is overwhelming trying to remember who is whom, but Che struggles with the same problem and keeps reminding the reader with funny mnemonics.
Also, while I know that the questions in a reader's guide at the back of a book are usually written by the publisher and shouldn't have much impact on the reader's opinion, the questions provided at the end of The Canterbury Sisters were thoughtful and thought-provoking. I appreciate what well-written questions can add to a book discussion.
I really liked this book and it is perfect for the dog days of summer. This is a travel book that will make you want to take your own journey. 60 miles along the trail to Canterbury sounds exactly like something I would like to do. And with a group of women, too. Read this book and I just know you'll feel the same way.
It is better to travel well than to arrive.