by Jennifer Lash
This summer Doherty’s first Summer Reading Program for faculty and staff read and discussed the memoir On Pilgrimage by the novelist Jennifer Lash. Although not strictly fiction, Lash’s book is a narrative of the journey she took from Caen to Santiago de Compostela. She sets out on this pilgrimage after being treated for cancer when the disease was in remission. Lash’s narrative focuses primarily on the experience of the moment – she rarely considers the past or contemplates the future. Rather she describes her emotional and physical reactions at each of the places she visits. The only deep questions she delves into are “why am I doing this” and “how do we each approach “C’est un mystère’ or ‘the mystery of faith.’” Lash was born and raised Catholic and visits mainly Roman Catholic shrines throughout Europe (although she does also visit some non-Catholic ones). She, at the time, was a lapsed Catholic but her worldview is still very much formed by Catholicism. The narrative, therefore, has an interesting combination of “insider” and “outside” quality to it.
The participants in the Summer Reading Program had some lively discussions about the nature of pilgrimage in general, where are the pilgrim sites in the United States, and what Lash gained from her journey.
As an interesting side note, Lash is the mother of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes. Here’s a link to a page of information about Jennifer Lash that includes “An Evening with Ralph Fiennes, Joseph Fiennes and Sophie Fiennes Reading from Blood Ties and On Pilgrimage.” by Jennifer Lash. New York City, 27 July 1999.